[This transcript has been edited to delete extraneous material for improved flow. Speakers were allowed to edit and expand their comments for clarity and completeness. As indicated by [brackets] some clarifications and explanatory annotations have also been added.]
|Constancia Dinky Romilly|
Our Backgrounds and How They Influenced Us
Viewing the World Through a Movement Lens
Blacks & Whites
Son of the South Film
Local Leadership Was Key
Struggle & Hope
Women & Leadership
Acknowledging the Names
Black & African Studies
Positive Changes & Pervasive Racism
Racism in Our Communities
Today's Social Justice Movements
Listening & Leadership
Music & Culture
Black Manifesto & Reparations
SNCC News Service
Preserving Our History
[BEGIN SESSION #1]
So I'll just say I'm Gene Turitz. I live in the Bay area in California. I was in the south in the summer of 65. And I worked with the Freedom Democratic Party and I was with Friends of SNCC from 1963 till 1967 doing work, educating and fundraising. And I've been involved in lots of local activities.
But anyway, why don't we go around just so that everybody has a chance to just sort of introduce themselves. And since we are not in any order on the screen, I'll call names and then we'll see how it goes. So I don't see Jean Smith here.
Mm-mm. She's not here.
Karen, would you like to begin?
Certainly. My name is Karen Edmonds Spellman and I am a southerner by birth. I lived in the South all of my life until we got run out of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1958. I was involved with the NAACP as a young teenager. And then later when I went to Howard University, got involved with the Nonviolent Action Group — or NAG — and began organizing with Marion Barry when he moved to DC in 1963 I believe. And I moved back south to work for SNCC in 1966.
Thank you. Dinky.
Hi. Dinky Romilly, worked in the New York SNCC office in 1962 as a volunteer. Then came down to Atlanta and worked as Northern Coordinator, secretary, typist, et cetera. And then came back to New York and worked for a bit in the New York SNCC office. And eventually went to work as a volunteer for SCEF and then yeah. Life moved on to other activities.
Thank you. Ira.
Okay. My name is Ira Grupper. I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I've been here for 52 years. Started out in New York City. I did volunteer work in the New York SNCC office for a while. I worked with the Atlanta SNCC office up for a long time in their research department, which was not just the research department. It's a hell raising department. I was on staff of COFO and MFDP in Hattiesburg and Columbia, Mississippi.
My first arrest incidentally was not in the South, it was in New York city. I was not one of those people that felt that the problem was just in the South. Racism was and is all over the United States. I spent time in jail beaten in Jackson, Mississippi. Then in solitary confinement in Marion County in Columbia, Mississippi. Beaten once by the State Highway Patrol. Things that I went through pale into comparison to what many other people did.
Later on, like Dinky, I joined the staff of SCEF, the Southern Conference Educational Fund. I worked as the printer. We printed a lot of materials in the Civil Rights Movement again for SCEF, the Southern Conference Educational Fund. And I see the history repeating itself here in Louisville just had the murder of Breonna Taylor a year ago and there's still activity going on. So the struggle is here and this continues and I'm honored to be with you all.
Thank you Ira. Nancy.
Hi. I'm Nancy Stearns. I live in New York. I worked in the Atlanta office when Dinky was there from June of 1963 through August of 1964 doing office work, whatever and communicating with people with what then seemed to be very exciting. But of course, now we would say, Ho hum. When we got the Wide Area Telephone Service [WATS] line that enabled us to talk to everybody all over the country. And I was doing that a lot and it seemed very revolutionary. One has to laugh thinking back.
Thank you. Arlene.
Hi I'm Arlene Wilgoren Dunn. My first demonstration was in February of 1960 in Harvard Square at the Woolworth supporting the sit-ins, the lunch counter sit-ins. That was when I was a freshman in college and I was somewhat involved during my college years. Then I worked for the New York SNCC office from '63 to '64 and then I worked in the Arkansas SNCC office from '64 to '65. I moved back to Boston, my hometown, worked with the Boston SNCC office for a couple of years.
And it was in Boston that I first got involved with a group called People Against Racism or PAR. And this was an organization, many of the members were people like me, white people who had left the SNCC and other southern based organizations in response to my, and many other people's feelings, that SNCC needed to be run by Black people. And I think we might want to get into that in some other discussions.
But then I ended up moving to Detroit and working with PAR when we formed a national organization. So I was involved with PAR and I've been involved with other various organizations trying to work in the white community, doing our best to try to raise the consciousness of whites about race in America and the long history that it's had. And we can get into that in some later discussions. So, okay.
Yeah. Thank you. So the way it's set up is we're supposed to talk about how our participation in the movement affected us. And that can be as any way you sort of see it but some of the thoughts that we've had as how and why we became involved? What did it mean for us? And how did it change us?
I know from just to say some of these questions have come to us when we've been talking in schools and things that these are some of the questions that students ask us. And really the first time that happens, it does make you stop for a moment to think about, what am I saying to these young people? Anyway, does somebody want to begin? Go ahead Dinky.
Well, so thinking about the trajectory of one's life and I assume most of us in this particular chat room were teenagers in the '50s. And the '50s was — from an organizing perspective — a very quiet period except in certain areas. But nationally, it was quiet. The anti-communist hysteria had very much affected me as a teenager because my parents were communists and we were under surveillance and subpoenaed before the various Un-American committees [House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), Senate Internal Security subcommittee].
And when I got to college, I was frustrated. I didn't know why I was frustrated but looking back on it, I realize that I was frustrated because there wasn't a social action activity to be a part of. I had grown up being part of an anti-racist movement via the Communist Party in my parents activities in Oakland [CA], where I grew up. So when the sit-ins started, it was as though my life started and it was just obvious to me that, that's where one had to be, that's where one had to put one's efforts. So that's how and why I got involved. [crosstalk 00:13:41].
Go ahead, Arlene.
You mentioned the '50s and so I was in high school in 1957, a junior or something. We were fortunate enough to have a TV in our home and I do remember we had a TV during the McCarthy hearings. And I remember watching some of those and being astonished at what was going on. In fact, my fifth grade teacher disappeared never to return in '52 or '53 or something like that. So I attribute that to the anti-communist movement.
But at any rate I came home from school and watched these images on TV of what was happening in Little Rock and I was so naive and had no clue that there was a race problem in this country, no clue at all. And then watching what was happening in Little Rock was such an eye opener to me thinking — I didn't use the word "privileged" at that point — but how privileged I was to be able to go to school without anybody interfering with me. I didn't really act on it right then but it did have a profound impact on me when I think about when, like I say in 1960 in February, demonstrating in Harvard Square at the Woolworth's. So that's a sort of a rough history there.
I will say I was working in New York in 1964, had no intention of going to the Freedom Summer. I was not a college student, I was already out of college. And when Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were found missing at first, the New York office published a full- page ad in the New York Times soliciting funds, looking for support and funds and we got all kinds of mail, including hate mail. And I was working in the office opening all this hordes of mail and I opened one of the hate mails with piece of feces, human feces in there.
I said, "Well, I know I'm not supposed to be there. I've already lost my opportunity to go to the nonviolent resistance workshops." But I wanted to go anyway. And somehow Julie Prettyman, [Julia Poussaint] who was the Director of the New York office, and many of you who've worked in New York of course know Julie. She helped me figure out a way to go south. And I just quit my job, dropped my lease, packed all my worldly goods and just left. And the impact, I feel the impact today from my time in the movement. It was so profound.
Thank you. Go ahead, Karen.
Okay, ladies first, that's what's going on here. I have to say, I feel a little bit like I'm in my high school class in New Haven, Connecticut and Hillhouse High School where we had to flee after my family got run out of Greensboro because my dad was the head of the NAACP in '56, '57, '58. And we had experienced a lot of oppression to say the least from taking part in the movement.
But I think probably I'm really fortunate I was born into an activist family. I was the first Black baby to be born in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas where my dad is from. So I tell a lot of people I was born with a picket sign in my hand and I kept moving from there. But my entire family was considered back in the day, I was born in '43.
So back in those days activist people were in the NAACP number one, followed [W.E.B. Dubois] and the other leadership within the NAACP and were considered to be "race people." And my dad was one of those. He graduated from Boston University, got his PhD there and was in the class ahead of Martin Luther King. So he and Charlie Cobb's father, Reverend Charles Cobb, were all buddies in Boston where I lived for about a year and a half. I don't remember it because I was two years old. But we immediately went to Black colleges. I lived on Black college campuses most of my life. So my experience is quite unique from everybody else's. I didn't go to New York until I was a teenager after we moved to New Haven.
I'm Southern based. We grew up in Oklahoma. I grew up in a rural community called Langston which was an all Black town of 600 people. And it was a home for Langston University where my father taught and where I learned everything that I could about the outdoors and very little about the inside of the school because that's just the way it was back in those days.
But we moved to North Carolina in '56 and my dad became immediately involved. So we started doing demonstration. At the time it was all about trying to desegregate facilities, federally-funded facilities. So the bus boycotts, desegregate the buses, the libraries, the schools, all of those were the things that were happening at that point in my early teens. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the NAACP National Convention where I met Medgar Evers.
And I was so impressed with Medgar Evers, I wanted to move to Mississippi and work there, but I was only a sophomore in high school. So after high school, I wanted to just go to college and my dad was poor so I had to go where I got a scholarship and that was out in Ohio at a place called the Defiance College.
And I stayed there for a year and a half and went crazy because the movement had started and I was stuck out in the rural area of Ohio. So I transferred to Howard and became active with NAG, I mentioned earlier. And fortunately Marion Barry had just moved to town. So Charlie Cobb kept me regularly informed about all the things that were going on in SNCC. And I had vowed that I was going to work full-time for SNCC once I was able to put my younger sister through school.
There were four of us in our family. So once '66 came, that was the turning point for me. And I quit my job, moved to Atlanta and worked in the research office, interestingly enough in 1966, and was involved with the Black Power Movement there. And I didn't know all of the inner politics that had gone on earlier but soon learned them and became active with the Lowndes County Freedom Organization Movement [in Alabama]. We did a lot of support materials for Lowndes County for the Black Panther Party election and saw a lot of the Black Power Movement unfold while I was there for those two years until SNCC finally closed.
And a lot of that is documented now in the Black Power Chronicles website that SNCC legacy has created. I'm an events producer by training, and I have a master's in City Planning. My career has been in events management, in events production for the past 30 years. And I was called into early SNCC and then later SNCC to try to work on the 50th anniversary. So I did, I was the lead organizer for the SNCC 50th and came up with the idea of starting the Legacy Project and mentioned it to Courtland and that took off after the conference was over because it was such a tremendous success. So that's my story.
Thank you. Thank you. All right, go ahead Nancy.
I'll go next. I did not grow up in a family that was connected to movements. I grew up in a liberal democratic family. I was amused, Arlene, when you talked about the HUAC hearings because — I mean McCarthy hearings actually were what were televised because that was when my family got a television set because my mother was glued to it all day long during the hearings. We would hear about it at dinner and that really impacted me a lot in terms of how I looked at various governmental problems and all the rest.
But I really didn't know about what was happening generally in terms of developing movements until I was a graduate student at Berkeley. And Chuck McDew came through and talked about SNCC and as a result of that, of Berkeley first and Mike Miller, and I ended up driving South in the summer '63. And I ended up staying and being able to be part of that movement definitely impacted my entire life because what it did was it sent me off to law school.
I was in SNCC through the end of the summer of '64 but during that, during '64, I took the Law Boards and ended up going to law school in New York. And the first 14 years of my legal career were either working on things that had to do with the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was perfect for me. And then working with the Women's Movement, the Native American Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement [Vietnam War]. It turned me into a movement lawyer basically and impacted my entire view of everything and the way my life went.
And as a result of that, I am beyond grateful personally that I was able to be involved with SNCC and have that truly become part of my life in a way. It wasn't part of my family's life at all though they were liberal Democrats.
Thank you. Well, it's interesting. I'm fascinated how many people — [I'm] East Coast in some ways but I now live in California and have since 1962. I grew up in New York city and I think in a somewhat progressive family, in a community which was greatly mixed, was part of Queens or Long Island City called Sunnyside which was a lot of socialists and communist who didn't get along very well during the '40s.
And I suppose I did my initial political work there because even as kids we ended up doing a lot of electoral work, passing out literature both in the projects in Astoria as well as at subway stops. But by the time I went to college, I sort of thought I was going to become a musician or I'm musician but that I would become a composer.
And right when I graduated, I moved to Berkeley and I thought again that I would go the route of becoming a composer and this was in 1962, all these things were going on all around that I couldn't keep out of my mind. And so the change for me was a lot from going from someone who was interested in my own personal advancement as a composer to realizing that's not making me very comfortable or happy.
And I became involved with Friends of SNCC in 1963 and through that started to learn and meet people because the Bay Area was a place where a lot of people came out for rest and recreation and whether it was some local people from Hattiesburg or SNCC staff people who would come to help raise funds or to meet people, I began to learn about and hear a lot about what was going on.
And in 1964, I was married to a woman who was going to U.C. [University of California] and we talked about going South but couldn't, she couldn't leave. So we decided to stay but we were very involved in the training of people to go South. I remember we put on a large event at one of the high schools in San Francisco which was a public event where a lot of people came who were interested in going south.
And I continued to work with friends of SNCC and working in the Anti-War Movement at the same time because as a young man, I was eligible for the draft and so the war was very conscious part of our lives. How we were fighting against the war as well as trying to avoid being drafted ourselves.
And by '65 both this woman, Nancy Hoffman, and I decided that we would go South and at that time, the MFDP was asking for people to come and work on projects in different places. And I think that while I considered myself very knowledgeable having paid attention to a lot of the WATS line reports which we were turning around and sending out to people in the Bay Area as well as having people come to speak who were working in the South, living in the South. I thought I knew a lot, and of course I got to Mississippi and realized how little I knew. And in that summer of '65 there was the idea that there would be a training [session] on the [Gulf?] Coast.
I'm slipping my mind the name of the town. Anyway, we were going to be trained but as soon as we got there, the MFDP had decided to hold demonstrations in Jackson because the Voting Rights Act had been passed and the Mississippi legislature was meeting to try and avoid as much as possible what the Voting Rights Act was calling for. And so instead of having training, we were sent immediately out to the counties. And Nancy and I were sent to Belzoni which was deep in the [Mississippi] Delta and a community I knew nothing about but where it appeared that many people didn't want to go.
But we spent a week there talking with people and I think that, that was — Well, it was like shock therapy. One was that I think we got into town and about five minutes later the police were on us wanting to know who we were. And I being a smart-ass Californian, when I was asked for my identification said, "Why should I give it to you? You have no reason." And all the Black people with whom I was, said, "Give it to him, give it to him." And I'm going, "Why? I don't have to do that."
And finally, I realized that I better give it to him. And he looked at it and then said, "Okay." And then we went off and of course he followed us around and that there were people who were one, willing to talk to us with the Sheriff sort of following behind us, watching whom we talked to. And then there were people who offered us places to stay with them.
It just was such a break from what my life had been and what even I, smart guy with all the information, knew or understood was so great that I think that was the real change or part of the real change that took place. And then we went to Jackson. I ended up spending 10 days in jail there after demonstrating with people who came. And so it was a very fast beginning into what the South was like. I think we both had the effect that it altered my life and even today I am still doing organizing based on really the principles that I learned working in Mississippi.
I see Ira is back. Ira, you disappeared for a while.
I don't know what happened but it wasn't my fault.
Okay. Your picture isn't on. If you want to try and turn that on.
I see there's this new start video. The start video.
There you are. Okay. So it's something [crosstalk 00:34:27] we've all done. We've all said our little pieces to start off. So would you like to talk about yourself?
Sure. Well I come from a family of Orthodox Jews in New York city. [What] some call "Holy Rollers." Although my father was somewhat politicized during the Great Depression of the 1930s. [They] used to say all Jews had money. Well, we moved into a New York city housing project in Brooklyn New York, the Coney Island area, Sheepshead Bay area. And I was a teenager one step up [inaudible 00:35:06] from whence I had come. And my Mama, for education [inaudible 00:35:15]. And I didn't see it that way. So my original intention was to get a Bachelor's, a Master's and a PhD.
We're not hearing you at all.
Ira think your internet must be a little unstable.
Can you hear me now?
Okay. Well, if you can you hear me now, good. So where was I?
My father came home in 1960. He says that he was not the activist that we are but he was a very decent person. He said, "There's some African-American students sat-in in a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. I'm taking off from work and I'm going to join the picket line to support them in New York. You want to join me?"
And I didn't know what to do. I supported the concept but I was near-sighted, I was skinny — no longer skinny. And I didn't want to be different from anybody else. I said, "Hell, if he's going to do it, I'm going to do it."
I took off and that was sort of an epiphany for me if that's the right word to use. And I began to read everything I could of the Civil Rights Movement. And I became an anti-intellectual which was wrong also. I suppose now I say I'm an aspiring anti-intellectual. But starting to go to college, I couldn't concentrate in school, just couldn't. Got involved in demonstrations, the first demonstration I got arrested in was in New York city.
But the main action was in the south, I had done a lot of work in the SNCC office. And then I was contacted by a woman in Atlanta, Ruby Doris Smith, it was later Smith-Robinson. And she asked me if I wanted to go South. Don't forget, I had a lot of experience in New York. So I went South first with the research department which was not really a research department. It was a research focus and activist department. The guy who headed the research department was the fellow that — I'm forgetting, from Oklahoma [Jack Minnis]. He says, "These rich fools are proud of their theft. You need to learn to understand the way the system operates, not just be angry and walk about in circles."
So he taught me how to use materials and books that I never thought I would ever have to use. Your Moody's Industrial Guide, Standard and Poor's Guide To Corporations. And it was a life-altering experience for me.
Met many people. I lived in the SNCC Freedom House. We had an apartment in Atlanta and I remember a fellow who had been in Virginia. I think he was still in Virginia but I'm not sure. The fire hoses ripped the skin off his back, he had to lie on his stomach for three months. And I came through the Freedom House and he was standing on a ledge getting ready to jump. And I had another person come down [inaudible 00:39:43] having worked in the SNCC office with — Well there was [inaudible 00:39:49] and a guy with red hair, I can't remember his name. And Julian.
Was the redhead Mark Suckle?
Yes. That's the one. Yeah. Thank you.
He later moved to New York. I was in the SNCC office when Mark was.
And then there was Barbara Brandt from Boston. I don't know. But anyhow, I went to a lecture that Stokely [Carmichael] was giving at A.U. [Atlanta University Center], I think it was Morris Brown. And he said something that was outrageous which was as his wont. And I got up and I criticized him. White boys aren't supposed to be criticizing Stokely Carmichael. And he put me down but after the meeting, an amazing woman named Johnnie Mae Walker from Forrest County, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She came up to me and she's, "You're pretty smart for a white boy. You come into Mississippi with me."
And I looked at her, who the hell is she telling me what to do? Well, three months later, I was in Hattiesburg and stayed for a long time. That's how I met Marion Kwan who is [leading one of the other discussion groups]. Wonderful person. Bob Beach — I wish I had with me — Bob and I went out to visit Vernon [Dahmer] who was in the head of the NAACP [in Forest County] and he was far from a conservative person. He had mixed reactions. He showed me the sign that the KU Klux Klan had fixed to his house. It was the death threat of the Klan. He gave it to me and I kept it as a souvenir, it's at the University of Southern Mississippi now, their archives.
It was a death threat. Six months later, Mr. Dahmer was dead. The Ku Klux Klan had molotov-cocktailed [his home with] gasoline soaked rags in a Purex bottle [and] something to light it. Mr. Dahmer went for his piece, his weapon, and drove them off. His wife escaped them on her own, his daughter was burned, but she escaped. Mr. Dahmer was burned over 80% of his body and he died several days later of smoke inhalation.
So soon thereafter I moved to — or maybe I stayed in — I don't remember. In Columbia, Marin County, 36 miles away. Yeah. Went to go pay my respects to the Dahmer family. We go there and the FBI stopped us, they questioned us if we could be possible perpetrators of this crime.
Well, we had a good excuse the three of us. We had just gotten out of jail. The Columbia, Mississippi, Marion County 36 miles away, however many miles away so we couldn't have been the perpetrators. So these things weigh upon me.
I also want to say and this is not false modesty. I played a very small part. Maybe everybody on this played more than I. But I did what I could and it changed my whole life. So maybe the PhD in 17th Century English Literature was not for me. I did not become a flame of the anti-intellectual but I'd heard that proverbial different drummer. And I'll just end by saying that I am so honored to be with you all.
I have a lot to learn from you and this is not a false modesty. I've held a lot of important position that was involved in the labor movement. I still sit on the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council representing the union. And I worked with Carla Van Baalen in SCEF with Dottie [Zellner] and thinking that they were actually involved before I was in that. And so if I had to sum it up, I would say that formal education is not the same as knowledge. I still remember Fannie Lou Hamer was saying, "If you ain't got nothing, you ain't got nothing to lose." And that to me is a compelling principle of life. So again, I'm very honored to be with you all. That's all I have to say.
Go ahead, Arlene.
Thank you Ira. I'm humbled to be in all of your presence as well. I think this is really wonderful but I wanted to make a little observation that it seems like all of the rest of you, your families were not just supportive of what you were doing but empowering you to do what you were doing. And this was not the case for me. And I've wondered over many of these many years why it was that I struck out and decided to be a protestor and demonstrate and take part in these movements.
My family nearly disowned me. They didn't, but there were times when I had such — So Ira when you said you came from a Jewish Orthodox family. So I grew up in a Jewish family that was Orthodox because my grandfather lived with us and he was Orthodox. So we had to become Orthodox although my parents were not.
My mother would say to me words like, "I don't know why you don't help your own people. Why are you helping those other people?" That's the kind of not just lack of support but arguments. And so I found it interesting that so many of you came from more liberal environments. So anyway, just an observation.
That's interesting because although my parents were liberal Democrats and reformed Jews, lots of Jews, obviously. My mother wrote letters on political issues all the time, their positions were great but they wouldn't talk to me when I told them that I was going South. They were really, really upset. I think part of it was truly — they were scared. I was scared and that I could relate to but I don't think that was all of it.
And my sister really had to work to get them to basically talk to me in the month or so after I told them I was going South and before I went South. So I was someplace not that far from where you were but I think actually their value system did impact me and was part of why I decided I really had to do it. So it's all complicated but I certainly didn't have Karen's background or Dinky's background or Ira's for that matter.
Yeah. I do remember sometimes responding to my mother that I was only fulfilling the values that she had raised me on. She's always treat people fairly, these kinds of things. I said, "I'm just fulfilling the values you raised me on." But that didn't often go over well. But what's interesting, one of the reflections and I'm not sure... Do we have an agenda Gene or?
No, this is the conversation.
One of the things over the many years and like I say my life was really impacted from my time in the South and actually even before then. I began to view everything around me through the lens of race and trying to understand our history and sociology and all this kind of stuff. And I know my family got really pretty sick of me making comments on some of their statements that they clearly didn't know what they were talking about.
But it was interesting after George Floyd was murdered, I did have one of my nieces talk to me and say, "Now I understand what you were getting at. I finally get it." Lo these 50 or 60 years later, so —
I want to go back and pose the question again that I keep getting. Like I say, when we go to high schools or even junior high schools and speak with students who really want to know how we were able to make these choices and it makes me think a whole lot about what is it that I say to them that gives them the ability to make the choices that somehow we made? And that's the lens that I look at a lot of these questions through because I do know how I did that with my own children. My own children are both activists. One's a school principal now and the other's a librarian in a high school.
But they look at their lives through whether we call it a "social justice" or an "anti-racist" lens, the work they do. And when I say to them, "Well, how did you get that?" And they go, "Well, you've made it perfectly clear." So I understand, in a certain way, how I did it with my kids but when I get asked in general like in a high school, I want to be as encouraging. I want these kids to make these choices. And I'm never sure what it is that I do say beside a lot of what we're talking about here. So that's sort of why I keep asking that question. Dinky, go ahead.
I find when I'm talking to elementary school and high school — I don't talk too much to college kids. That part of it isn't so difficult because that is a question of looking at your world and seeing what's happening in your world and seeing what it is that you believe in that isn't going according to what your own beliefs are.
And even little children have some sort of a worldview that they probably get partly from their parents and partly from school and the ones that are more interested read the paper. The question that I always find so interesting is that they seem to think that you have to have about a million people along with you to accomplish anything. And I try to point out to them that at the beginning there were very, very few, there were very few of us.
It wasn't a movement of millions or 1000s or even 100s at the beginning. It was one at a time, one person at a time joining up with like-minded other people at the time. And even little kids, one of my grandchildren had an issue with the dress code at his middle school. And so he was rebelling by just deliberately wearing the stuff that wasn't on the dress code.
I said, "Well, you might find it more effective if you get together with a group of five or six of you. It doesn't have to be a lot. And you could have a protest where you all came to school wearing the wrong thing and then write a letter to the principal or the school board." We'll see, they don't think that by just taking a few people they can affect change. So I think that's also another important lesson that we have to bring along to the younger people.
Go ahead, Karen.
It's very interesting to hear everyone's background and I gather most people on the call except me are Jewish. Is that where we are?
[crosstalk 00:54:28] except Dinky.
Except for Dinky. I know Dinky-
Although my stepfather was a Jewish — I mean he was an atheist. So yeah. I was actually raised as an atheist although my mother as part of her organizing in the Communist Party was asked to go into a lot of Black churches in Oakland. So that's how come I already knew all the songs and everything when I came into the Movement because I had been in all these churches as a girl. Yeah. Anyway, sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you.
No, but that's good. I'm glad to hear that. And a lot of you who did have activist parents they were in the Communist Party or they were socialists and that may be the link to all of us because I'm sitting here saying I'm the only Black person here in this whole conversation. And I'm thinking I've had such a distinctly different experience growing up than any of you did.
And I was trying to think of, okay, so when did I make the connection that all white people weren't Christians. That there were actually some people called Jews. And just to be honest, I lived in a totally segregated environment even though my folks were educated. You probably have heard this but social isolation in the south was very racial.
And so we had a whole set of organizations and stores and schools and stuff that were completely distanced from any white people. And I can remember at age nine meeting my first white person. It was an Italian person who came to the college and he bought his family and they said were going to bring some pizza pie to the house to eat with us. That was my first encounter. And I thought anything that was pie was sweet. So when they bought this dough with tomatoes all over it I said, "No, no, no. Pizza pie is not for me." Of course apple pie or something like that. But that was my first encounter with a white person. I must have been eight or nine years old and I didn't encounter a Jewish person until I moved to North Carolina.
And there was one man who sold clothes to Black people on market street and his name was Ralph Johns and he became one of the leading Jewish activists in Greensboro and joined the NAACP. And then I said, "Oh, so Jewish people are activists. They want to help us end racism and they're discriminated against."
And then I moved to New Haven in my junior year in high school which was in about '58 and I was in a totally Jewish high school. I didn't even know what the religious practices were. I knew nothing until I moved to New Haven. And then I learned a lot more about the persecution of the Jews, et cetera, et cetera. But up until I was what? 14 years old, I knew nothing about Jewish people.
And I can see that probably you folks had not a lot of experience knowing what Black people were doing. So this umbrella organization called SNCC comes along and provides us all an opportunity to not only meet each other but also to work together on common projects and in solidarity and with the pretty good — I would say for most it wasn't always the case but for the most part on equal footing with each other.
It was very eye-opening for me as a predominantly Southern isolated segregated person and I can imagine you guys in other ways had totally segregated lives in your own communities with whites. You had very few Black people that you probably even interacted with.
And the SNCC experiment provided something new and different for all of us to be able to try to relate and understand. We had our bumps certainly and we can talk about those if you want but I'm just grateful that we were able to share bread, share ideas, fight over issues and things like we did in SNCC because most of the people in NAG were — It was an integrated group. It wasn't an all black group.
So we all had our issues and believe it or not Ira, Stokley got argued with totally all the time. So it wasn't anything that wasn't happening. So it's just interesting to see this perspective and be the only person in the room now, I feel very much, like I said, I'm in my high school or in my college out in Defiance, Ohio where I was the only Black woman on the campus. And you talk about problems, that was really difficult. So I'll share that.
It's 11:25am and if people need a little break to use the facilities or whatever, we can take a little five minute break if people would like otherwise we can just go on.
[Informal discussion during the break]
— Yeah, I meant to get in touch with you because a couple of weeks ago I finally watched Son Of The Southand it was so fabulous thing but the best part was Chaka. Without question. And I loved the fact that he was playing his father, that was so magnificent. I just chuckled because I haven't seen him since he was a very little kid. When he came into the room I thought, I bet I can guess who that is. So anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I loved him. He really awesome.[Son of the South is a biography-film about SNCC member Bob Zellner. In the film, Chaka Forman played his father, SNCC leader James Forman. Dinky Romilly is Chaka's mother.]
He was. He came out of [acting] retirement for that because his day job is he is the Restorative Justice Coordinator. Well, now it's called the School Climate Coordinator for the middle school where his kids go in Los Angeles. Right. So yes, that was nice. See, that film was a long time in the making and they had asked him early on if he would play Jim. And so he said, "Yeah, sure. Of course. What could be better for a —
Right, no kidding.
— man to play his father. It was great.
I wasn't very pleased with the film.
Well, I mean come on. It was what it was. But I loved seeing him in it. That was fabulous.
That was nice. Yeah.
The person who played my mother [Jessica Mitford] was so awful. And why they even had that character in the movie was just beyond me —
I was wondering about that —
Name dropping. Why — Yes she did have a couple of amazing experiences in the South because she was an early anti-racism. I'm going to call it that then but she was a civil rights worker. There was no point whatsoever in that scene and that actor was so bad and the accent was so ludicrous and the whole thing was just so a-historical. Yeah. Anyway, one notices these things if one knows the actual people.
Exactly. I think you took me to maybe have tea with Virginia Durr [Montgomery Alabama civil rights supporter]. So when she was on screen and I kept thinking of our little visit and I thought, "Oh that's nice."
Yeah. The Virginia Durr part was a bit better. Yeah.
So I see we're all back. Does anyone want to start up — ?
I'll just say for me one of the things that I think changed me, or that I learned that has been still a part of my life. When we talk about the sixties and a lot of us in the activities, that slogan "Don't trust anybody over 30." And that we were in a battle with our elders. It was a lot of the way we saw things.
And yet when I went to the south, the idea that has affected my life in a way probably more than anything else, was learning from local people. The learning from the people in the communities with whom you worked. And in the last six years, I've been working in a community organization in South Berkeley and the fight we have — One of the foundations, it's one of the few really mixed Black and white and some Latino groups in Berkeley where leadership is by Black people.
And that even today, maybe even more today there's so few people who believe that that's important. And in all the work we do to raise the voice of the voiceless, to give strength to the people in the community. And that's really something that I learned in the '60s in the South and working with SNCC where that was foundational.
And while I thought that's so obvious and so important, it's some of the arguments that I have with people even now who reject that. The smartest people, the people with the education, the people who wrote the books they're supposed to be the ones that you take your ideas from and not the people in the community. So for me, that was a very great learning experience that has had a great effect on me my whole life. I don't know if others felt similarly or —
Well, one of the things that I learned is that you don't get anything without fighting for it and you don't get to keep anything without continuing to fight for it because the system will always find ways to screw you. That it's not an apparition or misordering priorities. This stuff happens. It's a continuum, they find different ways.
I used to rule on discrimination cases for the City of Louisville and what I found was that they'll appoint women and African Americans, disabled, LGBTQ, as long as they go along with their program. They found ways to deal with this situation. And so for me, I learned you don't get anything, or more appropriately, you don't get nothing without fighting for it. And you don't get to keep what you've gotten without continuing to fight for it. The system will always devise new ways to screw you and as dialecticians we have to figure out ways to deal with it.
At least for me, it is. And one must never forget what the Civil Rights Movement taught us about humility or at least — I don't know how humble I was but maybe I learned to be humble. To learn from people and never be — Somebody told me once, and you'll forgive my language, "Never be wowed by these motherfuckers. Just keep your eyes on the prize." It's not easy to do that.
I'm a little bit older now and I've had a lot of medical problems, many of you all may also — And I live in a senior citizens complex now. I have difficulty getting around, but the problem is the same. How do you deal with this? There's little lifetimes and large problems and the overwhelming totality of a fucking system that's hell-bent on keeping you down. How do you deal with it?
I'm having a big problem right now with my children. I want to organize a union in this place, there's no union. And they said, "Daddy, you're going to get fired because you're on a month-to-month lease." I said, "Well, how many more years do I have? I'm not trying to be a martyr. I'm not a masochist."
What do you do? How do you make that proverbial difference? I don't just want my epitaph to say, "Here lies Ira. He fought a good fight." I want, "Their lies Ira. He kicked some ass while he was around." And I think that we all want that too.
There's nothing really special about me. But just one other thing, I want to reiterate what I said and others said before, I am so honored to be with you all. I have a lot to learn and we are this band of brothers and sisters in a circle of trust. And that's what I will always remember. That's it.
On that note, I'm wondering how you all feel about whether you have any hope for the future because I feel like things are —
I really do feel like I was a part of history and that my involvement in the movement helped to create a lot of change. And we'll get to that in the next session is to. But it all just seems to be for naught some days. What's happening right now is so disheartening in so many ways and just and wondering and yet I hear people who are involved in organizations and in various sundry things and they say they're hopeful and that they —
Well we have to have hope, without hope we're nothing. We're empty without hope. But I don't know how you all feel about that.
I was going to ask Karen because I just wonder in the community you grew up in, was there hope at that time? Was —
There was a lot of denial at that time. People were in their own cocoons. I'll speak about the Black community. My family's activism was considered crazy by the majority of people who were from my community. And as a result of their activism, we literally were ostracized and eventually run out of town and the whites who were in control didn't have to do that. They let the Black people, there were the Uncle Toms. I'm going to just call them what we called them. Uncle Toms ran the community so it wasn't anything that —
How do I say it? Activists have always been in the minority I think in all movements. Okay. Its never really been a mass — Certainly you'll have some times when there's mass demonstrations like for George Floyd's murder for example.[Referring to the nationwide mass protests against racially-motivated murders by police in mid-2020.]
But for the most part, activists worked a pretty lonely life. They live a lonely life. We're lucky when we can find a few of us that think alike and are still having enough energy and health to be able to organize. But all of my life has been spent basically organizing. My dad not only was a — He had a Doctorate in Sociology but he was also a minister. And so when we moved to New Haven, my dad became the head of a United Church of Christ church called Dixwell Avenue United Church of Christ. And the Black community in New Haven was very oppressed. They didn't have any leadership, they had no voice, they didn't speak out about anything. People told them that they should just be glad that they were there, that there wasn't any so-called racism — which was rampant in New Haven but nobody recognized it.
So when we moved into the community and started setting up organizations and doing demonstrations in support of the southern movement, people thought we were crazy. And it took a while but slowly but surely there became group of people who started looking around and saying, "Hey, we do live in the poorest part of town and we do have the worst schools in town and our jobs are basically — If we work at Yale [University], we work as a custodial staff. We don't have any people at the professional level in jobs at Yale." This was in the late '50s, early '60s. To me, all of the work that I do I always look for people who support my ideas or I can support their ideas but I realize that the majority of people will move slowly or not at all.
So you have to keep on pushing. That's the song "Keep on pushing" because without that motivation from people who can see a better life, I think the rest of the world would just be as it always is. Racist, oppressive, very unwilling to do anything to help people that are not like them or don't think like them or don't look like them.
I've been working all my life. I do events, I started doing special events because I liked doing them and there wasn't even a category of work that was called special events when I started producing concerts and dinners and all those good things back in the mid '80s. And I pledge myself. I'll say, I'll do a dinner that may honor somebody I don't particularly like but eventually I'm going to try to channel my work into something that's meaningful for my politics and for my culture that I come from because I come from an activist culture.
So I started doing events that had meaning. The Black Family Reunion, I worked for Dorothy Height. We produced a traveling program called the Black Family Reunion that started at the Smithsonian and worked its way around — I don't think we ever got to San Francisco but we did do a big event in Los Angeles.
So you have to find meaning with whatever work you decide to do and I don't know about you guys but I never stopped trying to do things. I realize that I'm older now and slower and can't get out on the marches. But I can organize an archival project that can tell the story about the Civil Rights Movement or about Black Power. So I don't know if that contributes anything to the conversation but that's pretty much where I'm at. I don't particularly care how many people think I'm wonderful because they never did. I was always the odd man out or the odd woman out.
Karen, I agree 100% with you. The concept of hope, I have to say that's not a concept that was ever really important to me. I know that everybody says that you have to have hope, you have to have love. I think what you have to have is passion and something that is important to you.
As I said earlier you find some other people that are passionate about that as well. And there may not be a lot of them. I think some of us lost our way when we engaged too much in electoral politics and especially in national electoral politics. And I know we couldn't help but when Obama started Organizing America, if you were around at all, had ever been around in any organizing strategy and you saw this little local organizing that his people were doing after Occupy.[Referring to Obama/Democratic Party grassroots organizing initiatives and the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011.]
It was just sort of like — Okay, good. Let's just throw ourselves into that. And then we wanted to help defeat Trump. Okay, fine. Great. So defeat Trump.
But in the meantime, those that are interested in local politics I think we forgot about local politics and we forgot about the fact that now — Therefore, 35 states are now controlled by Republicans. That didn't have that to be.
But aside from electoral politics, there's just a lot going on in every community that you can be a part of. And I'm very excited. Terry and I recently moved to a place in Cold Spring on the Hudson river. And I was shocked to find out that it's a Trump county, the vote that went for Trump. But there are just dozens of activists there younger than I, thank goodness, working on all kinds of educational, ecology, diversity, anti-racist. Whatever you want to say.
And I just tell people, "Find your thing and plug in." I'm working on the Healthcare Bill in New York. That's my passion. We did change — Okay. We did do electoral politics. We did take away the State Senate in New York from the Republicans so that now we have Democrats and we did get rid of that horrible Cuomo. All right, great. Now what are we going to do with that? So now we have to move on.
My thing is the Healthcare Bill but there's lots of other things. So yeah, I don't feel despair, I feel shocked and angry at the rollbacks that are happening. Yes, of course. But I don't feel that it means that our time was wasted. Ira organize that union. Go, go for it.
I agree. Do it.
I'll shut up, too much talking.
If I were going to try to refocus go back to that question though. How did the experience that we had in the 60s lead us to that view that you just expressed? Or do you not think it had anything to do with it?
Yeah, of course it did.
First of all as far as racism is concerned. I was a racism-denier when I was in high school. My parents tried to tell me that the system, Ira, the system, the system that's out to get you — that the system was racist. It was just built in. And I was like, "Oh no, it's just a coincidence that the Black kids are all in this ind of program and the white kids are all in this other kind of program."
And in my senior year a terrifying thing happened. It's too long to go into, that opened my eyes to the fact that my parents were right. And then, as Nancy said, I had the unbelievable privilege of working with — To your point Karen, very rare that a white person is allowed to be a part of a Black led movement. And the fact that I was privileged to work in that situation, it completely changed my outlook, it changed my worldview. And Nancy said this as well. It made it possible for me to be a lifelong activist and anti-racist, anti-capitalist lifelong activist.
There's something else though that I haven't said and I know different people have said it at different points in the past when people were organizing books about their experience and everything. One of the things I really felt — And in a way I'm grateful that I got, it was that I really felt that despite the fact there were some unbelievable women, particularly in the small communities, who were leaders, there was a real resistance to having women show any leadership, take much initiative and that's actually probably why I ended up going to law school.
I, at one point concluded that if I wanted to really be any help and do anything more than the WATS line, which I loved. It was fascinating. But do basically office work and stuff envelopes, lot envelopes, that I needed a skill.[WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service) was a precursor to the 800 numbers commonly used today. SNCC and CORE WATS lines were operated around the clock, day and night, mostly by women. Activists out in the field used the WATS line system to call in to headquarters in Atlanta, Jackson, or Greenwood without those calls being billed to the phones of empoverished or endangered local movement supporters. The WATS women received reports, fielded emergency calls from the field, and dispatched what aid as was available. They typed up daily — sometimes hourly — reports and summaries that were used for press releases and to mobilize support from Friends of SNCC chapters and other support groups.]
I didn't have any skills. And I decided the best skill for me to get was to become a lawyer. And I am incredibly grateful for all the levels of experience, the ones that Dinky's talking about but also the recognition of basically sexism that pushed me into law schoo. And also helped me understand things better when I got out of law school in terms of addressing issues with the law for the Women's Movement.
So that was very helpful to me and it totally changed the way I felt I could continue working because I realized I was scared shitless of going into a community and trying to register people to vote. And I wasn't really sure that I ought to be doing that. Not just because I was scared — which I was — but I really did feel [that] I'll be leaving this community and I'm a white woman and I've got all this privilege, blah, blah, blah.
But I did feel [that] if I had a law degree, it could make a difference and that's how it ended up impacting me in large part. It also gave me an idea of ways of approaching using law with various social movements and political movements. But also once I got to law school, I had a mentor who had a political and legal background who really could guide me in that way and that was Arthur Kinoy who I met when I was in the SNCC office in Atlanta and he was one of the people who encouraged me to go to law school and I ended up working with him, for him, and he ended up being my mentor. So I'm grateful on that level too.
Can I pick up on the women's leadership? Because I have to say —
No, let me place myself in time. When I "Went South," as everybody says, from the North — I lived south all my life, I went north. That's the thing that happened. When I returned to the South or Lower South because I lived in Washington and went to Howard and lived in DC, which was very segregated. People there were very powerless at the time.
But when I decided to go to work in the Atlanta office, it was called the National office in '66. I was maybe 21, maybe 22. I wasn't a teenager any longer. I had graduated from college and had worked for two years in the Poverty Program which was the place that all Black people could get a job after college in Washington DC because the federal government wasn't hiring you. So they created this buffer called the Poverty Program run by Sargent Shriver and a lot of people wound up working there.[Referring to "War on Poverty" programs that offered employment to young college graduates such as the Peace Corps, Job Corps, Headstart, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and so on. Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver was the Peace Corps' first director.]
They found their professional career there and that's where I met people like Belvie Rooks who was there. Her husband was the Head of the Urban League at the time. And we worked together in a neighborhood. Or H. Rap Brown or — Let me see who else. Oh, Cortland [Cox] I think was involved in it but a whole bunch of SNCC people found jobs working in the Poverty Program.
But all of the leadership was male, could have been Black male, or white male, a Latino male. But it was male. And when I came down to the Atlanta office in the fall of '66 right after the Meredith March had completed. Then the people who were in leadership there were women.
And I don't know if many people know it or not but Ruby Doris was the Executive Secretary when I came down. It wasn't Foreman. Foreman was walking around pretending like he wasn't the leader. But we all knew what he does. You know how foreman does his work. And other people, Ethel Minor was head of the communications office. Jack Minnis was still in the research office when I came there but he left maybe about six months afterwards. So I was very disappointed I didn't get a chance to have more time with him. But I was considered his replacement because I had been to graduate school with sociology. But it was clear that it wasn't a social research function that was going on there once Jack schooled me.
Fay Bellamy had a high position there at the time. So these were the leaders. That's not to say that we didn't have strong voices like Stanley Wise and Ralph Featherstone, Stokely. But there really was not a male dominant presence there even when we had our meetings and everybody was fighting over whatever issue and fight over — You stay up until 3:00 in the morning trying to hold the vote so that you can get your vote. All these tactics and stuff that were part of a SNCC. The women were duking it out with the dudes, let me just put it that way.
And so I was very impressed and really happy to see that this was taking place and I said, "Oh, I can really find myself working here for a good little while because of the women in leadership." And they were good leaders. So I came away after the experiences was over with a greater sense of women empowerment as a woman and became heads of different organizations, non-profits, et cetera. And actually eventually went back to school to get my Master's in City Planning. And I went to Georgia Tech. I never thought I would go to any predominantly white school like that. But I pushed in and I got in and I graduated. It wasn't easy —
Your timing was brilliant because I don't think you would have had the same experience or felt the same way if you had been there a couple of years earlier.
I think the women cleaned house.
Nancy, I know what you're talking about. And Karen you know — Of course it was wonderful that Ruby Doris was such a strong leader. I was just talking about her in a podcast I did. But I don't know why. Maybe because I wasn't — I don't know why. All that sexism, I was aware of it too but it wasn't really a high conscious thing for me. And when I decided to finally get a skill, I didn't have any skills either. I dropped out of college, I didn't have a degree. And then after Jim [Forman] and I had kids and we didn't have any money, I was like, "Okay, I need to do something where I can earn some money."
And that's when I went to nursing school. Really just to get money, not because I loved people and wanted to help people and all that. And I was just lucky because I loved being a nurse after I became a nurse. So that was just a very nice thing for me. And I went on to get advanced degrees so I could do different kinds of jobs. So yeah, but that's a whole other subject. I didn't feel put down by doing secretarial work. I don't know why. And I did see that there were leaders and I know those leaders were — No, women leaders. And I know those women leaders have never been properly acknowledged. But there you have it, it was a period of history.
I didn't mean that I felt put down because I felt like what I was doing — It felt appropriate at the time. I just knew that in some way I wanted to contribute more. I got to that point when I felt that — And I don't know maybe it was even because I'm probably a couple of years older than you Dinky. But I felt like if I really wanted to contribute more I got to get a skill and that's why I went and got it.
And I think probably I'd already applied to law school when I met people like Arthur Kinoy and Katie Warberg who was an incredibly political lawyer from New Haven. I met her when she came down South too. And that helped me, and it helped motivate me, but I think maybe by then I had already figured that out and had taken the Law Board [exams].
I'd be curious to hear a little bit more about the functions that you folks performed once you became full-time SNCC workers. Just what your actual work was and where it was done and who you worked with?
You want to let the work that we did when we were in SNCC. As I had mentioned earlier I came down to Atlanta to work with Jack Minnis. He headed the Research Department.
What year was that Ira?
I'm sorry. I can't remember years — before I was — I don't know. '64, '65. Something like that. And as I said earlier, he said — And you'll forgive my directness, "Nuance and subtlety are not my forte." He says, "These rich fuckers are proud of their theft. You have to learn how the system operates or you won't be accomplishing more." And he taught us. He taught me and the people that I worked with how to trace interlocking-directorates and tie in sales. Things that I thought were just ridiculous to learn.
But no, that's one of the things that I will... I can't remember anything but that's one of the things that I will try to always remember. It was very, very important. He was an amazing person.
I want to digress and mentioned someone. Nancy talked about Arthur Kinoy. Arthur Kinoy and I worked very closely together. He was a real "people's lawyer." He really represented the finest legal profession. I remember him getting dragged out of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Little guy, five foot, two. This big six foot-ten monsters dragged him out of there. He was not trying to be crazy —
I still have that photograph Ira. It's a wonderful photograph seeing him pulled out. It was on the front of the — I think The Lawyer's Guild dinner honoring him. They had that picture —
We spoke together. He invited me to join him at the Lawyer's Guild to talk about affirmative action. We went to a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And what a real people's lawyer he was. I remember I used to go with several other people along Farish Street in Jackson [MS]. That's where all the lawyers offices were. There was the LCDC [Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, an arm of the ACLU) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. And Arthur says, "You got to meet the right lawyers. Not just lawyers that want to make deals but lawyers who are willing to really fight." And I'm sorry, I'm digressing. But Arthur was an amazing man.
I could go ahead and speak to Karen's question. So my job for the most part was really doing administrative work. I worked in the office. I was like the office manager, if you will. So I wrote memos to people, I wrote to Friends of SNCC offices to update them on what was happening in Arkansas to help garner the support of Friends of SNCC offices. I ran the mimeograph machine. I answered the phone, stuff like that. And I never, at that point, never really felt like I had this role because I was a woman. I felt like I had this role in part because I was a white person. That this was a good role for a white person in support of what Black people were doing in the field, if you will —
— Yeah. Doing the organizing, going door-to-door. Although there were definitely white people doing that also, especially the ones that came for the summer.
It's not that I did [office work] exclusively because there were other things that I did but I think that was my primary job.
What years were those?
So that was June, July, of 64 through about September of '65.
Okay. And that was in Atlanta?
No, that was in Arkansas. First in Pine Bluff and then we established a state office in Little Rock. So some of us who were involved in statewide operations moved to Little Rock. And actually — Well, that's just another story. But anyway —
Was Myrtle Glasgow working there when you were there? Myrtle Glasgow.
That doesn't ring a bell to me, so —
[Unclear 01:39:48] my memory about people there, I'm sorry to say. So that's what happens when you get to too close to 80.
Wait till you get past 80, then you'll be sorry.
I was in Mississippi only for three months in '65. I went in June and stayed through August and I think I said earlier, I had worked in Belzoni for a week or so organizing. And then I was in jail in Jackson. And then I went to Panola County, Batesville, which is in the Northwest.
And we worked primarily on — Well, one of the things that happened in Batesville was that they had started to form a farmer's cooperative. They had organized that already, but we were still encouraging farmers to be part of the cooperative and it was while we were there, they took their first okra crop to Memphis to sell, and so worked on that. And then we worked a little bit on trying to start a maid's union and we were doing freedom schools.
In September of '65, the high school and the elementary school, all the schools and in Panola County were to be integrated — or could be integrated. And the MFDP leadership thought that we should work to try to get families to send their children to the formerly white schools. And so we did a lot of walking on back roads and sitting on porches talking with people.
And then there was also a plantation there with a lot of sharecroppers and there was a sharecropper's union. So we gave support. We didn't do real organizing of sharecroppers. There were one or two families who were publicly involved and we would go out at night primarily to meet with them and talk with them about the work they were doing and give them support. So that's the work we did.
And who was the leadership there in Mississippi when you were there?
We were under the MFDP primarily and it was a Robert Miles who was head of the MFDP but Penny Patch was there. She and Chris Williams were probably the SNCC people at that point.
Okay. Yeah. I think it's important to lift up the names of people that you work with even if it was not a lot because this is being recorded for history.
Absolutely. Robert Miles and R.J. Williams we're very important people.
Good. Thank you.
I'd like to mention a couple of other people too, if I may. Who were unsung. There was a fellow in SNCC, his name was Curtis Styles. He was from Jayess, Mississippi, near McComb. He was the first person to graduate from college. He to Southern University in Louisiana. And Curtis — This was before I arrived. He went into Marion County [unclear 01:43:37] Columbia, Mississippi. He had nothing but a pack on his back and a few key contacts that he had. And he slept the first night in the woods. [Inaudible 01:43:52] the cops or the Klan would stop them. The next day, at the house a very courageous African American family. They didn't have anything to do with civil rights folk. And it wasn't really a house, it was a shack. We had no running water.
And then soon after, a few days later, a guy walks in, he says to Curtis — And this was before I arrived there, a year or so before. "My name is W.J. McClinton. I just quit my job and I'm here to fight for freedom." This guy was functionally illiterate. He had at best a third grade education. So here you have an African American guy who comes from a farming family worked his way through school, had a Bachelor's Degree. This other fellow, third grade. They began to build a grassroots movement. It was before I got there. I was in another town I figure probably. This house was transmogrified into the Freedom House. And the Klan shot through the house. Shot high powered rifle fire and buck shot but nobody was hit. They survived and they built a movement.
And this was not a movement that was real big. It was not like Holmes County or some other counties. But it was a movement and they built a cohesive unified movement out of nothing. And it was not white folk like me that built that, it was African American who built that movement. I was privileged to be part of it later on. What happens to this history? Where is it? I hear about the big projects, and I'm not putting it down. Big projects are very important. Almost every city there were — or little town rather, there was a movement. Somebody mentioned earlier about — What town was it? In the Delta.
Whoever it was that mentioned that, you know a fellow named Jody Bateman? He was a white civil rights worker. But anyhow, again to go around the block. But we need to convey that it was ordinary people who built this movement but we must not glorify just being ordinary. You have to know what you're doing. You can't just have a good heart and be on the side of right. That doesn't mean nothing. And I think that the benefit for me of a SNCC and other groups is that people whether they were educated or not educated formally, they knew what they were doing. And I, as a white person, really had a lot to learn from that. So end of my speech, sorry.
It's 12:15 or a little after here, 3:15 back to you. So we're supposed to take a break for 45 minutes for rest, food, whatever it is. And Karen, thank you very much for stimulating the last part with what you said to get us —
I'm so deep into archiving and capturing stories and stuff now because I realize that's probably one of the most important things we can do, is take lift up this heroes.
If you want some names to lift up for you in Arkansas. Jim Jones, Ben Greenwich. Of course, Bill Hanson, Nancy Shaw Stoller. So just a few names for your archives. See you all. Bye.
[END SESSION #1]
[BEGIN SESSION #2]
Well, the question for the afternoon is supposed to be an evaluation of the
Freedom Movement. And considering the issues of what did we achieve, what did
we fail to achieve, what did it all mean, and what lessons did we learn? But
that's just ideas. I mean, any other evaluations — And again,
it's supposed to be a sharing and not an argument. I don't know how people
feel about that, but we should just see what happens. So, I don't know if
anybody has some thoughts that they want to —
And definitely not enough Black students, definitely short of their proportion
in the population, and lower than it has been in its history. It's at one of
its lowest, maybe only 5% of the student body, where it's been as high as 15%.
But I'm quite good friends with a woman who was a professor in the Africana
studies department. And she thanked me personally for the sacrifices that I
made in the movement in order for her to even have a job like the job that she
has. And so, that has sat with me. And it's not that — I mean,
I didn't personally do it, but of course, I personally did go there. But those
departments across the country are the results of the movement, I would say.
Everything from breaking down the racial barriers for public accommodations.
Certainly the new — I don't know how
you — Well, the changes that have been made in the political
system now. The many more people that are nonwhite that are exercising their
right to vote. There are far more people who are people of color who have run
for and won political office, and are serving in various capacities from
mayors, to Attorneys General, to congressmen, and even senators, and not to
speak of a president. That has happened.
And I attribute their rise to prominence directly to the movement. There's no
longer a draft system — a military draft
system — which was a big depressive tool of the government to
force, especially young and uneducated Black people into the military. That no
longer is a factor for us.
So I think if we could sit down and just enumerated, we probably could come up
with 20 or 30 things. But the ultimate question though, that so
far — All these things are changed.
But what hasn't changed and what's still pervasive in our
society — and that's racism. Overt and covert racism are still
very much alive and well. I don't need to talk about all of the things
that — The rise of the far right, and all the paramilitary
organizations now that are working to keep someone like Trump in office with
all the things that he stands for.
So there's a lot of work to be done, but I think that we have to say that
things have improved over the course of the past 50 years. I would come away
with that. And I just feel proud that I was a part of making some of that
happen. And I think we need to acknowledge that we did some good work. Even
though we may feel that a lot of the things that we did 50 or 60 years ago are
no longer applicable today. Maybe not, but they're building blocks. So that
would be my takeaway from it.
And we feel the work people did brought us to this point. But the voting thing
is terrifying. I mean, the Republicans have just been really smart at what
they've been focusing on and how.
I know that I often speak in schools with an African-American man, Cole
Bridgeforth. And Cole will tell the story about how, when he was four years
old, he went to visit his grandfather in Arkansas. And walking home one day
from something they were doing, some white men came walking down the sidewalk
and his grandfather — and grandfather stepped off the sidewalk
and pulled him off the sidewalk. And when Cole said to him later on, "Why do
we do that?" He said, "So we'd get home." And the difference of the movement
is that, that doesn't happen.
And in 2014, when there was the 50th anniversary of the summer project, some
of us who had worked in Batesville, Panola county, went there before the
affair in Jackson. And we had lunch one day in a town, in Sardis. And as we
came out and we were with people from that community, so it was an integrated
group. We walking down the street and a police car pulls up, and I'm turning
away, walking away from the police car. And this African-American guy gets out
with a badge on — I forget it was sheriff or police chief. And
he says, "Wait a minute, I want to talk with you."
And I'm thinking, "Well, I don't want to get into this now." But he walks
over, he says, "I just want to shake your hand." And I'm going, "Oh." He says,
"Yeah, you made this possible." And that really moved me — And
yes, we were there, and a lot of things are still very bad. The plantation
where we had gone, there are no longer sharecroppers. Well, that's good in a
way, but many of those people never got other jobs. So for a certain
percentage of people, the conditions are still very bad. But there were
There was — the class in the high school that got integrated
in 1965 or '66, finally had a reunion where there was an integrated reunion.
It took about 40 years or 35 years for them to have such a reunion, but that
did happen. And although people — We were driving by and
people said, "Well, you see that church there, that used to be the white
church. Now, any of us could go there." So I said, "Well, do you want to go
there?" He says, "No, I don't want to go there, but I could."
And so, yes, there were changes, and maybe not all the changes that I would
like to see. And I certainly know working here, even in what's supposed to be
the very liberal city of Berkeley, the issues of racism are still powerful and
overwhelming. And that the importance of declaring racism as a public health
issue is there because of the effects that it has, the effect of security
cameras, which the police want to put up all over on the outskirts of what are
the predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods, are still things we have to
fight about. They think that they can do that.
And so I think while there were victories, we have to see that our experience
and what we did 50 years ago still is relevant today. Because bringing those
voices, bringing those ideas, bringing that sense to the whole community, that
these changes must take place is still important.
So yes, I totally — Karen's enumeration of what we
accomplished is extremely important. You look back in
history — My father and mother fought in the Spanish Civil War
and they lost to fascists. They lost that battle. And it was many years later
that [Spanish dictator [Francisco] Franco finally got deposed. But you have to
all — When you look at history, you have to realize
that — I don't believe that the arc of history bends towards
justice, or whatever that expression is. I don't think the arc of history does
anything. I think people in each situation have to get up and do what is
important in their community.
So, if you're going to be an anticapitalist like Ira is, and I am, you know
you're going to be suffering some defeats. But it doesn't mean that you don't
just keep on. And you got to acknowledge what we did. And what we did was
learn a method of organizing that in our generation we didn't know before. Not
that it was never known before, but in our generation that was something that
we advanced. And yes, we should be very happy that we were a part of that. And
that's what we should be telling the young people, I think.
Because I think in some ways, that has the other side of the coin that brings
on the wrath of certain militia types or even police officers and others that
have brought on the incarceration and death of many Black people at the hands
of police. So, in part, because they stood up for themselves.
And until you deal with the systemic nature of this — we're
going to pass off this mortal coil before too long — it'll
still be here. How do you get people to understand that racism is not an
aberration? It's part of the way capitalism was built. And I'm sorry if I
sound very dogmatic about it. Systemic, they find many, many ways to co-opt to
do this to do that.
I received — if I may say this without sounding
arrogant — a small honor in some bourgeois group not too long
ago. And they say, "Well, haven't things really changed?" I said, "Yes, they
have changed." Black people don't have to go into the street when they're
walking down the street in Mississippi town when a white person approaches the
opposite direction. But the same control pertains. Until you deal with that
control, you're going to get very far.
The other thing for me is that I think that [inaudible 00:20:48] have a
mission. And maybe this sounds arrogant. We have a mission to tell young
people, we didn't know what the hell we were doing, [when] we got involved in
this movement — I didn't.
I read a lot of books. I could tell you about the labor theory of value, the
difference between the [inaudible 00:21:14], whatever the hell it is. But we
didn't learn enough [from the] people. I didn't. I think that I've learned
now, now that I said I know everything. But I want to tell young people, you
need to say, "I don't know" when you don't know. And remember the words of Yip
Harburg concerning moving up in this world. No matter how high or great the
throne, what sits on it as the same as your own.
I think the Freedom Movement picked up on that, and especially the
pan-Africanist movement that I was a part of back in the late '60s. And
recognized that our struggle against racism and oppression and to get the
right to vote and all the other things that we think that we probably have
accomplished is all a part of an international [inaudible 00:23:31] to
people — So you have the third world countries are people of
color. And I think that I certainly became a lot more aware of, and studied a
lot more the international scope of oppression as a result of being in the
movement. And actually got involved in trying to create mechanisms that united
us in solidarity with other struggling people of color across the globe,
especially in Africa.
And Dinky, I would just always think of Jim when I think about the struggle
against the [South African anti-apartheid] movement and the work that he did
in New York and around the world, because he traveled as a result of his
really strong conviction that we had to recognize that the oppression of one
people was the oppression of us all. So I do believe that the movement
contributed to a deeper understanding of how we are related to other peoples
who are under suffering under the same types of oppression that we have now
here in the United States.
And I don't think that that got lost. I think it's still alive and
invigorating. And I talked to some of the people from the Free South Africa
Movement on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, we did a tape. One of the
programs in this conference, this 60th, is a recording of Dr. Sylvia Hill, who
was one of the leaders of the Free South Africa Movement here at DC, just as
James Foreman — Sorry, I called Jim, James Foreman. Just as
Jim was certainly a leader in the anti-apartheid movement and getting the UN
to recognize the struggles of the anti-apartheid movement in the '70s, back as
early as the '70s. So I think that's really, really an important contribution
that came out of it.
And the last, I think quickly, is that we can work in coalitions, and we have
to work in coalitions in order to achieve change. I don't think that anybody
can work in isolation any longer. Not that it ever was possible to do that,
but coalition building and finding common ground with people that aren't
necessarily like yourself. You may have differences on other things, but if
you can find that common ground then, I think it's important for us to work to
build stronger coalitions in the United States and abroad. So those are my two
Black & African Studies
So I don't know if there are things that people want to continue on from
earlier. We're supposed to change topics. But if people feel like they hadn't
had a chance to say something about the work they did in the south, you should
Well, I'm happy to start when I — We were just talking about
Oberlin College and conservatory. And so one of the things — I
think one of the really positive outcomes of the movement was the
proliferation of Africana studies programs in many colleges and universities
across the country. And the Africana studies program here at Oberlin college
is pretty strong. Despite the fact that there's still some nasty racial
Positive Changes & Pervasive Racism
I would agree. I think that we can measure a lot of change that has taken
place as a result of the movement, at least over change that has been made.
Some of the institutionalized vestiges of racism are no longer things we need
to worry about. When you're old like us, and you remember what it was like
before the movement, you can definitely say that there have been some positive
outcomes from the movement.
Thank you. Go ahead, Nancy.
I totally agree with you. And I think that one of the really frustrating
things — and we all have analysis as to why they're in a
position to do it — but clearly when we were all working in
the South for however long we were, the focus was the right to vote. And the
major, major pushback now from the Republicans is to take away the right to
vote. And that's been going on for several years. And the last two years have
been really horrible. I mean, there are [SNCC 60th Conference] workshops over
these next three days, so we're going to be talking about that a lot. I mean,
I really agree with you, Karen, that particularly when young people say to me
how horrible everything is, and I agree. And all I can think of is, "Boy, you
don't know how much worse it was."
Yeah, I agree.
Anybody else? Well, I mean, again, in speaking in schools, we often
get — Why do you think you did anything? Look at this is
wrong, and the young people go down the list of things that are still wrong.
And I don't think we need to deny those things. In fact, we have to understand
them, especially from their point of view.
Well, I guess maybe because of my upbringing and of spending so many years
with Jim [Forman], working with him on his writing, I have to see it in a
bigger picture. Yes. So if young people are saying to you that they're
discouraged — I mean, it's just a repeat of what I said
before. The thing is there was no percentage in being discouraged. If you look
at history, if you read [Historian] John Meacham who did a brilliant job of
illuminating, I don't know, eight horrible periods in American
history — Stop saying that this is the worst, and this is
going to be the worst, and this is a catastrophe. I mean, if that's our basis
for discussion, then there's nowhere to go.
Thank you. Arlene.
Thanks. One of the takeaways for me for the movement is that it gave, mostly
young people in particular and young Black people, a sense of self-worth that
was absent before, perhaps. I mean, I think about the Young Gifted and Black
programs and how that, in some ways, has brought us to where we are today. As
Karen noted, how many have run for office and succeeded, and are leaders in
the community, and leaders in many ways. And it's that, I believe, a strong
sense of self-worth and regard for being human beings, where they've been
degraded for so long before.
For me, my lesson is that you don't get anything without fighting for it, and
you don't get to keep what you've won, unless you continue to fight for it.
The system has always found ways to generate the satisfaction into
non-constructive busy work. And if we believe in the concept of keeping your
eyes on the prize, the prize is that it's not incorrect priorities or a
mistake that racism has been used and is being used.
Thank you. Go ahead, Karen.
Okay. I wanted to just point out two other accomplishments I think were made
as a result of the Freedom Movement. One is the recognition that we are not in
this world by ourselves, that we're just not simply concerned about what goes
on in the United States, but we probably have borrowed from your parents who
were involved in the communist movement and recognize the international scope
of oppression, and try to do something about it and their generations.
Well, the question for the afternoon is supposed to be an evaluation of the Freedom Movement. And considering the issues of what did we achieve, what did we fail to achieve, what did it all mean, and what lessons did we learn? But that's just ideas. I mean, any other evaluations — And again, it's supposed to be a sharing and not an argument. I don't know how people feel about that, but we should just see what happens. So, I don't know if anybody has some thoughts that they want to —
And definitely not enough Black students, definitely short of their proportion in the population, and lower than it has been in its history. It's at one of its lowest, maybe only 5% of the student body, where it's been as high as 15%.
But I'm quite good friends with a woman who was a professor in the Africana studies department. And she thanked me personally for the sacrifices that I made in the movement in order for her to even have a job like the job that she has. And so, that has sat with me. And it's not that — I mean, I didn't personally do it, but of course, I personally did go there. But those departments across the country are the results of the movement, I would say.
Everything from breaking down the racial barriers for public accommodations. Certainly the new — I don't know how you — Well, the changes that have been made in the political system now. The many more people that are nonwhite that are exercising their right to vote. There are far more people who are people of color who have run for and won political office, and are serving in various capacities from mayors, to Attorneys General, to congressmen, and even senators, and not to speak of a president. That has happened.
And I attribute their rise to prominence directly to the movement. There's no longer a draft system — a military draft system — which was a big depressive tool of the government to force, especially young and uneducated Black people into the military. That no longer is a factor for us.
So I think if we could sit down and just enumerated, we probably could come up with 20 or 30 things. But the ultimate question though, that so far — All these things are changed.
But what hasn't changed and what's still pervasive in our society — and that's racism. Overt and covert racism are still very much alive and well. I don't need to talk about all of the things that — The rise of the far right, and all the paramilitary organizations now that are working to keep someone like Trump in office with all the things that he stands for.
So there's a lot of work to be done, but I think that we have to say that things have improved over the course of the past 50 years. I would come away with that. And I just feel proud that I was a part of making some of that happen. And I think we need to acknowledge that we did some good work. Even though we may feel that a lot of the things that we did 50 or 60 years ago are no longer applicable today. Maybe not, but they're building blocks. So that would be my takeaway from it.
And we feel the work people did brought us to this point. But the voting thing is terrifying. I mean, the Republicans have just been really smart at what they've been focusing on and how.
I know that I often speak in schools with an African-American man, Cole Bridgeforth. And Cole will tell the story about how, when he was four years old, he went to visit his grandfather in Arkansas. And walking home one day from something they were doing, some white men came walking down the sidewalk and his grandfather — and grandfather stepped off the sidewalk and pulled him off the sidewalk. And when Cole said to him later on, "Why do we do that?" He said, "So we'd get home." And the difference of the movement is that, that doesn't happen.
And in 2014, when there was the 50th anniversary of the summer project, some of us who had worked in Batesville, Panola county, went there before the affair in Jackson. And we had lunch one day in a town, in Sardis. And as we came out and we were with people from that community, so it was an integrated group. We walking down the street and a police car pulls up, and I'm turning away, walking away from the police car. And this African-American guy gets out with a badge on — I forget it was sheriff or police chief. And he says, "Wait a minute, I want to talk with you."
And I'm thinking, "Well, I don't want to get into this now." But he walks over, he says, "I just want to shake your hand." And I'm going, "Oh." He says, "Yeah, you made this possible." And that really moved me — And yes, we were there, and a lot of things are still very bad. The plantation where we had gone, there are no longer sharecroppers. Well, that's good in a way, but many of those people never got other jobs. So for a certain percentage of people, the conditions are still very bad. But there were distinct changes.
There was — the class in the high school that got integrated in 1965 or '66, finally had a reunion where there was an integrated reunion. It took about 40 years or 35 years for them to have such a reunion, but that did happen. And although people — We were driving by and people said, "Well, you see that church there, that used to be the white church. Now, any of us could go there." So I said, "Well, do you want to go there?" He says, "No, I don't want to go there, but I could."
And so, yes, there were changes, and maybe not all the changes that I would like to see. And I certainly know working here, even in what's supposed to be the very liberal city of Berkeley, the issues of racism are still powerful and overwhelming. And that the importance of declaring racism as a public health issue is there because of the effects that it has, the effect of security cameras, which the police want to put up all over on the outskirts of what are the predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods, are still things we have to fight about. They think that they can do that.
And so I think while there were victories, we have to see that our experience and what we did 50 years ago still is relevant today. Because bringing those voices, bringing those ideas, bringing that sense to the whole community, that these changes must take place is still important.
So yes, I totally — Karen's enumeration of what we accomplished is extremely important. You look back in history — My father and mother fought in the Spanish Civil War and they lost to fascists. They lost that battle. And it was many years later that [Spanish dictator [Francisco] Franco finally got deposed. But you have to all — When you look at history, you have to realize that — I don't believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, or whatever that expression is. I don't think the arc of history does anything. I think people in each situation have to get up and do what is important in their community.
So, if you're going to be an anticapitalist like Ira is, and I am, you know you're going to be suffering some defeats. But it doesn't mean that you don't just keep on. And you got to acknowledge what we did. And what we did was learn a method of organizing that in our generation we didn't know before. Not that it was never known before, but in our generation that was something that we advanced. And yes, we should be very happy that we were a part of that. And that's what we should be telling the young people, I think.
Because I think in some ways, that has the other side of the coin that brings on the wrath of certain militia types or even police officers and others that have brought on the incarceration and death of many Black people at the hands of police. So, in part, because they stood up for themselves.
And until you deal with the systemic nature of this — we're going to pass off this mortal coil before too long — it'll still be here. How do you get people to understand that racism is not an aberration? It's part of the way capitalism was built. And I'm sorry if I sound very dogmatic about it. Systemic, they find many, many ways to co-opt to do this to do that.
I received — if I may say this without sounding arrogant — a small honor in some bourgeois group not too long ago. And they say, "Well, haven't things really changed?" I said, "Yes, they have changed." Black people don't have to go into the street when they're walking down the street in Mississippi town when a white person approaches the opposite direction. But the same control pertains. Until you deal with that control, you're going to get very far.
The other thing for me is that I think that [inaudible 00:20:48] have a mission. And maybe this sounds arrogant. We have a mission to tell young people, we didn't know what the hell we were doing, [when] we got involved in this movement — I didn't.
I read a lot of books. I could tell you about the labor theory of value, the difference between the [inaudible 00:21:14], whatever the hell it is. But we didn't learn enough [from the] people. I didn't. I think that I've learned now, now that I said I know everything. But I want to tell young people, you need to say, "I don't know" when you don't know. And remember the words of Yip Harburg concerning moving up in this world. No matter how high or great the throne, what sits on it as the same as your own.
I think the Freedom Movement picked up on that, and especially the pan-Africanist movement that I was a part of back in the late '60s. And recognized that our struggle against racism and oppression and to get the right to vote and all the other things that we think that we probably have accomplished is all a part of an international [inaudible 00:23:31] to people — So you have the third world countries are people of color. And I think that I certainly became a lot more aware of, and studied a lot more the international scope of oppression as a result of being in the movement. And actually got involved in trying to create mechanisms that united us in solidarity with other struggling people of color across the globe, especially in Africa.
And Dinky, I would just always think of Jim when I think about the struggle against the [South African anti-apartheid] movement and the work that he did in New York and around the world, because he traveled as a result of his really strong conviction that we had to recognize that the oppression of one people was the oppression of us all. So I do believe that the movement contributed to a deeper understanding of how we are related to other peoples who are under suffering under the same types of oppression that we have now here in the United States.
And I don't think that that got lost. I think it's still alive and invigorating. And I talked to some of the people from the Free South Africa Movement on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, we did a tape. One of the programs in this conference, this 60th, is a recording of Dr. Sylvia Hill, who was one of the leaders of the Free South Africa Movement here at DC, just as James Foreman — Sorry, I called Jim, James Foreman. Just as Jim was certainly a leader in the anti-apartheid movement and getting the UN to recognize the struggles of the anti-apartheid movement in the '70s, back as early as the '70s. So I think that's really, really an important contribution that came out of it.
And the last, I think quickly, is that we can work in coalitions, and we have to work in coalitions in order to achieve change. I don't think that anybody can work in isolation any longer. Not that it ever was possible to do that, but coalition building and finding common ground with people that aren't necessarily like yourself. You may have differences on other things, but if you can find that common ground then, I think it's important for us to work to build stronger coalitions in the United States and abroad. So those are my two additions.
Thank you. I guess, for me, the thing that we've been less successful at, I think is, in a sense in our sometimes liberal even progressive communities, that we've been less successful at confronting the racism that exists within our own community. And that we haven't been as good in being able to make people aware of how their lack of concern for certain things is an indication of a racist behavior, or that they can watch things go on, and not speak up.
I don't think that I thought about dealing with that for 40 years after I was in the South. I mean, for us, racism was so clearly defined in the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn't what we were seeing all around us. And so we didn't take it on because of these other things. And I think that today that's become a more conscious understanding, and that's good. But I don't think we've done it very well so far, so that we still — That when we talk about refunding the police, or that I don't think without the cellphone that most white people would now suddenly believe what Black people were saying the police were doing to them all along.
In the same way that in the '60s, it was for many of us, those photographs in the paper which alerted us to the police dogs attacking people, and the fire hoses being used on people. Today, the cellphone has given an immediate outlet to what's been going on. But truly in our community, people wouldn't have believed it if they didn't have those cellphone pictures. That Black people should have been saying, "Well, we were liars until the cellphone came along?" Which is what everybody was doing. Black people would say, "This is happening." No, it's not really happening until they had photographs. I mean, I do think that was a failure in a way that we didn't accomplish and that we have to work harder at it now. You're muted, Karen.
I was going to say, I think we ought to be able to take a little credit for what's going on now with the contemporary social justice movement. And I think that they looked at our example, they took the things that they thought they needed from it and moved forward with the new social justice since 2014, I guess. That's a new movement. And built their new institutions and organizations and took on the challenge of you speaking truth to power, as we say, and do it in their own way.
And I think that they always credit the work of the earlier movement to helping them to find clarity and purpose and direction that they needed and in their movement. So I think we've got to acknowledge that. And we need to keep it going. The dialogue that we bring together with the younger activists today in this conference, for example, are just examples of that. SNCC as an organization was an organization of young people. We were young and they really appreciate the fact that we were able to do what we were able to do in spite of our age — or because of our age, in some ways. I think that's probably the right way to put it.
So I would give credit to us, the Freedom Movement, to helping them understand what their role needs to be in the role that they're playing today. And I think it's important for us to keep reinforcing them, and protecting them, and giving them all the encouragement that they need to keep moving forward. And I believe they appreciate that. So I'd say that we still have a role to play in helping to keep them going in their struggle. And they are addressing racism, they really are. They recognize. Thank goodness. So, I think that's a positive as well.
Thank you. Well, are there other particular lessons that one can speak about in the work we did that gave us the tools to how to achieve this, or how to — I mean, I think you talk about that there is a lot of looking towards us. And is it just that we achieve things or are there specific things that we see as being fundamental to how those things were achieved?
Let me ask it another way, because most — except for Dinky and I, maybe I'm wrong,. Because you're no longer in California. But I'm curious about the West Coast movement and what takeaways came about with the current social justice activists from the work that you folks did, both during your time south, and then when you were returned to your community and began organizing there? Can you see, you know, a trajectory that came out of the early work that you did with the contemporary social justice movement in the Bay Area or in Southern California?
Well, I think initially, a lot of things. I mean, one could look and say, that what Berkeley got noted for was the Free Speech Movement.[Referring to the protest movement that erupted on the U.C. Berkeley campus in the fall of 1964 when school administrators attempted to suppress student support for civil rights campaigns. The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was largely led by students who had worked with SNCC or CORE on Freedom Summer projects in Mississippi and Louisiana.]
And that was a direct — I mean, they were people who had gone to the south during the '64 summer project, who were told they couldn't recruit people in a struggle, which was a struggle against racism at the Oakland Tribune. And the owner of the Oakland Tribune was a [former U.S.] senator, who used all his powers to get the university to close down the areas where people were recruiting for support. So it was a very direct result.
And so you could say the FSM and — Although, during the antiwar movement, even I know Bob Moses came out here to speak at some of the rallies, and got into conversations with SDS around organizing, where he had an idea that perhaps SNCC could help train community organizers within SDS by getting them to come to the south, and then the SDS would do northern organizing based on SNCC stuff. They never worked out the agreement, whatever. I'm not sure what — But there were those thoughts to do that.
And then out of the Civil Rights Movement, I mean, you had the sit-ins at Auto Row, and then people from SNCC like Jimmy Garrett were involved in the Third World Strike at San Francisco State, which led to the development of, I think one of the first African-American studies department at a state university. So there certainly were direct things.[Referring to S.F. Bay Area sit-ins led by CORE and the Ad-Hoc Committee against employment discrimination at the Auto Row car dealerships, Oakland Tribune, and other large employers. The student strike for Third World Studies at San Francisco State was the longest — and most violently repressed — student strike in American history, resulting in over 800 arrests. It won expanded admissions for nonwhite students and formal establishment and funding of a College of Ethnic Studies. The S.F. State victory inspired similar struggles at U.C. Bereley, Cornell, and other colleges and universities.]
Now, you could also say that you could go back further and say there was a progressive movement [in the Bay Area], the opposition to [House Unamerican Activities Committee] HUAC, which resulted into big demonstrations in, I think 1959, at City Hall in San Francisco, were in a coalition between labor activists and student activists.
And so you had that tradition. So it's not just the Civil Rights Movement. It was a tradition. I think that as the Bay Area, especially, became a more expensive place to live I don't think people continued to be as aware of that history. And so while they think many people come to Berkeley saying, "This is the place where all these things happen." They're also only able to move here if they can afford a house for a million dollars. And so the sense of who you are, and the fact that by having all these million dollar houses, the Black population has gone from 25% to 7% at the Berkeley isn't recognized as a result of the racism that such housing policies represent. So it's a mixed bag.
Do you, in other communities feel that the same trajectory has happened, or is there different sense that people learn from the movement and were able to carry on?
I think in a way, even just watching the explosion of demonstrations after George Floyd's murder [summer 2020] is an example of how people learned. And they were a lot of the time started by young people, who would say, "I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm just going to go out and do it." And the fact that that happened all over the country in all kinds of communities, I thought was extraordinary. But I think it's got to be in part, at least, because of what —
They know. Even if they don't know in detail what happened in the '60s, they know. Of course, here there have been demonstrations about wars and stuff like that since then, but it's all a part of it. It's a continuum.
Well, it's a continuum only so far as we can convey the lessons of a particular struggle for future generation. But we don't have Trayvon Martin in Florida. We have Brianna Taylor's murder here in Louisville. And there was an outpouring of spontaneous outrage. The demonstrations continued day after day. I had been very ill, so I can't go to physical demonstrations. Unfortunately, there's not a cohesive unified movement to generate the dissatisfaction into a unified home.
A way to deal with it, it's not enough to be spontaneously outraged. Who was it? Joe Hill [who said], "Don't mourn for me, organize". Don't just fight this one battle, build a continuum. How does one do that? I don't have the answer, and that's not false modesty. But I know what has to happen. And this has to happen. So many civil rights workers get praised for the work that was done in the '60s. And yes, praise is necessary. But the Civil Rights Movement taught us, I would hope, that you'll fight one battle and the system gives you another battle that will be there for the long struggle, long haul. And at least, for me, I try to tell young people, we'll find other ways to screw you.
How do you build a cohesive unified entity to deal with it? I don't say that because I have the answer. I don't have the answer, but that's the question that I want to raise. In Yiddish there's an expression [foreign language 00:40:12], "With one ass, you can't dance at two weddings," or "What side are you on?" I believe that's our job. I can't speak for you all, but I'm not going to be on too many, if any, picket lines now. My health is too compromised, but that's what I want to teach young people. That it's the same struggle. I think that that's — If I may say this without presumptuousness, I think that's what we all have to do. Teach young people. "Stay in the fight. Don't give up."
And don't, just because you've won something, that that's the be-all and end-all, because the system is going to figure out some other way to try to screw you until you hold state power. So how are we going to get state power, Dinky? Give the answer to that.
I mean, it seems to me that one of the things I think that I learned in the South was how to ask questions, and what I was trying to learn from them. And how do we do that? I think that was integral to the lot of the work we did, was that — In Batesville, Frank Smith and a group [Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM)], they were starting Headstart programs in Mississippi in 1965. And so teams of people were going around to the different communities to talk about setting up Headstart programs. And they came to Batesville and we organized the community meeting, and there were 35 or 40 people there.
And [the movement people asked], "What do you want your children to learn?" And people said, "We want them to learn how to eat properly, and how to use a spoon, and a fork, and a knife. And we want them to learn how to be polite." And all the people doing Headstart were going, "Oh." and had to figure out how to integrate that into learning mathematics and all the other things Headstart wanted to do.
But the idea was that we were supposed to ask the people with whom we were working, whom we were supposedly organizing what it was they thought was the important thing to deal with. Well, how are we doing that now? Are we doing that very well now as organizers? Are we going into the community and saying, what are the answers that you see? What are the changes that you see as being important? And that's been the most telling thing for me in the last five years, was that, people have ideas. They don't think anybody gives a shit, and that we have to be able to create the atmosphere where people start hearing what people are saying.
And I don't think that in the — I don't think I've done a very good job of that over the last 40 years. I've done some work at it, but —
Well, I don't know. Maybe I'm completely off base here. But yes, I think it's extremely important to whatever situation you're in, is to hear what other people have to say, and what it is that they would like to know if it's an educational situation. But I also think that we have a responsibility as possible potential leaders, because we also have some knowledge about other things that are possible that some people may not have. So I'll give you an example.
I had a big fight with Van Jones a few years ago. Van is a very good friend of mine. Any of you that have followed his career, you know that he's always starting something new. He always has some new projects. So at one point he had a project where he was setting up discussion groups all around the country to come up with ideas for different policy positions that the group was going to have. I don't even remember the name of the group, because he's had a few.
And so, one of the policy issues that they were discussing was health care. They had all these groups. And in the end, the organization — They had all these focus groups, discussion groups, all around the country. And in the end, they put out this very lackluster position paper. And I said, "Okay, Van. So the thing is, it's great to listen to people's ideas, but people in these focus groups may not have appreciated the possibility of another vision. And as leaders, it's important for us not to substitute our vision for anybody else's, but to expand on the vision based on what we also know. I don't think we should abdicate our responsibility as to have input into these kinds of discussions."
Well, that's what leadership is about. You listen, but that's not all you do. You lead me. Maybe that's too simple.
Well, I don't necessarily mean that you lead, but you provide also resources and ideas that other people might not have access to. The group can be in leadership. I don't have to be in leadership. If I'm in a group of people working on health care, I don't have to be the leader of that, but it's my responsibility to bring out some other ideas that are possible. That's all I'm saying. I don't really know what leadership is. I can't define leadership. Sorry.
I've never been in a leadership position. Let me put it like that. Well, that's not true. I once was in a leadership position putting on a seminar when I was a senior in college.
Well, part of what our policy, or our mantra, in SNCC was, is that, our work was to find and help the development of local leadership in the communities that we serve. That, of course, we were not to say — And a lot of times, once you found the local leadership, they were perfectly able to articulate what it was that was of concern to them and things that were most important to them.
I know [SNCC activist] Larry Rubin always tells a story about going in to one of the Mississippi communities. And they had gone in to start working on voter registration. But at the time, the most pressing issue for the local community was to form a union. And that became the first job of the organizers, was to help people realize what they thought was most important.
And along the way, you introduce all their ideas and they get exposed to other things. But I don't think that any of us anticipated going into a community and setting ourselves up to leaders, or becoming leaders in the community itself. In some instances it did change, because [SNCC member] Bob Mants did become a leader in the Lowndes County project, but he also became a resident there. He wasn't coming in as an organizer that would be there temporarily. He made his home there, and his roots there, through his family, and became a part of the community.
But there are probably many other models that could be cited, but I think in general, the overall policy was that we were going in to develop local leadership, to help leaders that were already existing, like Fannie Lou Hamer, helping her find voice. So that's the takeaway I had from the SNCC experience. And I believe that's what we try to impart to the younger generation as well. And I think they're listening. I really do. It would be interesting for everybody to watch [the conference] this weekend to see the different panels that are intergenerational, all the many generations. Let's just try to gauge and see whether or not they learned something from what we did. I think it would be fascinating just to see how they've taken it and moved in their direction.
And I just wanted to point one thing out. I [organized] the [conference] concert, which is going to be on Friday night. I'm going to give a pitch. And it's an intergenerational concert. The Freedom Singers start off at the first part of it. And then the second part is all the new music of the new generation. And I'd be curious to hear how you think the music of our Freedom Movement, was it properly transferred into the new social justice movement?
Are you going to define "properly?" That's all I want to know.
I think they have too. We'll see. That's your homework.
They think a lot.
That's your homework. You tell me.
Okay. Karen, I really appreciate your definition of those, before the music one. The music went also, but of the SNCC message. I think that was stated clearly and well. I appreciate that.
The one place I didn't want to be a leader and ended up being, is that I — I'm the head of a political marching band that has been in existence since the '70s. Although it's changed names. Even after the pandemic, we did play on May 1st, in San Francisco. And we also played for some of the reproductive rights demonstrations that are in our community here.
And we're mostly old folks, but we play a lot of all the old union songs and civil rights songs. And we're not so good at marching anymore, because many of us can't walk the distance. But we stand and accompany the marches. And although I didn't want to be the leader, at some place we were, somebody said, "Well, who's your leader?" And everybody's pointing at me, but anyway —
You should have been invited. That's good.
Terry and I were singing in the New York City Labor Chorus for a few years. That was great fun. Really.
Yeah, the Labor Chorus is fantastic.
They have them all over the country, I think.
We have a strong one in DC. I'm trying to think of the sister who is the head of it. I'm having a senior moment, but she's been for many, many years. She's now a head of the labor council. She was a folk singer here in DC for many years. Now heads the labor council choir. But yeah, the movement continues in the music.
One of the struggles we always had in the labor chorus was a lot of the old union songs reference "men." You know, "all men," "unite men," whatever. And we always had a big debate whether we should change those words. And there were people that felt that, well, this is the same problem that we're having with historical monuments that are ahistorical — represent a wrong view of history — and what you do with that? Change the words. I don't know.
The Museum of Natural History has [inaudible 00:53:48] thing. There's a diorama of native Americans greeting a Dutch person that is arriving there. And they've put up all this signage around it, telling you all the things that are wrong with it, that are ahistorical, inaccurately represented. And I think it's so awesome. I mean, I keep taking my grandchildren if they want us to go see it. So they get bored with me and grinding, "Stop dragging us to the museum to see this diorama."
We changed the words to a verse of "Union Maid," because of that. And it goes something like, "A woman's struggle is hard even with a union card. She's got to stand on her own two feet, and not be a servant to the male elite."
The "male elite."
"It's time to take a stand, start working hand in hand. There is a job that's gotta be done And a fight that's gotta be won." Something like that.
Well, some words you can change. But other words, I feel like — Maybe I'm wrong about this, that you need to also explain that this was in an historical period — Coal miners. The coal miners were all men. So if you're singing a song about coal miners it doesn't make sense to change everything to "person." Anyway, whatever. It's a whole [crosstalk 00:55:14].
But the power of song is still — I mean, we had this experience playing a few weeks ago for the reproductive rights March, and it was in a community that hasn't been very progressive, in Alameda. And about 300 people there were mostly women. And as they were marching out, we were standing, we were playing "Bread And Roses." I don't know if you know that, but it was clear that none of these people knew that song, yet listening to the words as they marched by their faces would light up.
It was so amazing because we weren't — When I'm playing, it's hard to pay attention to the audience often, for me. And just seeing that, it made me realize how important that song was, especially for these women who was — And when we were saying "The rising of the women is the rising of us all," and you could see the pride they were feeling and how important it is to be able to reach to that and have that happen.
Totally. I can't tell you how many people, probably, that the Freedom Singers — Excuse me. Actually, they may have been one in the same, but almost. But how many new recruits to the movement the SNCC Freedom Singers were hoping to accomplish when they did their sweep of the whole country. Chuck tells a story that they would sing sometimes two or three concerts a night, and they couldn't talk the next day because they were in such demand. And I know begging inspired me. I loved them.
And I think my experience is probably the same as a lot of people too. They just made you want to be involved in the movement. And I think I can somewhat attribute my decision to go full-time with SNCC because of the inspiration of the Freedom Singers.
Where did you hear them?
I first started them — DC. In Washington, DC, as a student. They came to Howard. I was a student at Howard University. And they came and did a concert there. And it wasn't a biggie. There wasn't a lot of people there, but they were so powerful. I just thought like, "Wow!" Their tenacity and all of their emotion that they put into the music is just amazing.
So doing [the SNCC 60th concert] virtually is really hard, let me say that. I'll never do another virtual concert, where you have folks singing a cappella in five different cities. But they did a phenomenal job.
And we worked with the All Souls Unitarian Church here in Washington too. Their music director said, "I'll step in and try to help you pull this all together, because it's important for young people to hear them," and for them to hear themselves, because they've been saying singing for 60 years now. But anyway, that's part of what we've been working on for the past few months, is to get that concert organized. I'll never do another virtual one as long as I live. I've done about 40 concerts and I'll never do another virtual. It just doesn't work.
I don't blame you. I don't know how those people at Playing For Change. That's what they do. I don't know if you're familiar with them, [crosstalk 00:58:49] Playing For Change.
Playing For Change. Okay.
Yeah, you can google them. They put together musicians from all over the world to sing. The one about Biko — Sing the song Biko is —[Referring to martyred South African anti-apartheid leader Stephen Biko who was beaten to death by police in 1977.]
Well, all of their music is just completely stunning. But how they do it technologically is a complete mystery for me.
I'll look them up, because doing an a cappella virtual is — I mean, we have great videos in this — A lot of people contributed their videos. And Toshi Reagan, Bernice's daughter, actually did two new songs for us and recorded them for the program. But having to do five part or four-part harmony long distances a cappella, it's really hard.
Really hard. Well, congratulations for pulling it off.
Well, I want you all to look at it and tell me what you think.
It's part of the fight. It's going to be on [[at 5:10]], I think on Friday, right after the Artist As Activists panel. That's going to be interesting. Tell me what you think.
I might not be able to stay for the whole thing, so I hope it will be recorded and available later.
It is. All of the sessions at the conference will be available through December. So you have to log back in, because I'm not going to be able to see all of the work, because a lot of us are working behind the scenes to make sure everybody gets registered, gets to the right workshop. And maybe my husband is the moderator for the Artist As Activist, and he barely turns on a computer.
A lot of tech support needed.
On each side.
Can't argue with that one.
One of the things I think is interesting is that I don't think I've heard very much discussion about how much this cultural work was important in the Southern movement. And I don't only mean the Free Southern Theater and the Freedom Singers, but the Sundays that we went to singing unions in different parts of the county, where after church, people from all these different churches would come together and sing, and we would be able to speak there. But clearly these were places where people came to relax, yes, and to enjoy what the music was, but they knew there was more going on. And that, for many of us culture and political work is so often separated.
When I was first a musician, and go to a concert, I would get introduced, "Well, when he's not on a picket line, he's doing this, he's writing this music." And it was this separation. And I myself didn't know how to bridge that. One of my failures, I always felt that I couldn't bridge that. And so at some point I chose the politics more than the music. But in the Southern movement, the culture was important. And it is important that that be brought up again as part of the work we do.
Absolutely. I think you're right. There needs to be a lot more testifying on that. This panel will be intergenerational. So we'll have two young people from current social justice work. And then Sonia Sanchez, who is a poet activist all her life. I think she was part of the first black studies program added out in the Bay Area at San Francisco State [College, now University]. And the other one is a West Coast person who you probably know, is Emory Douglas, who [crosstalk 01:02:55].
For the Black Panthers.[Emory Douglas, a graphic artist, was Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party.]
For the Black Panther. His work is powerful and very, very motivating for — I mean he probably recruited half the Panther population with all of his designs and posters and flyers and the backs of the paper.
The back to the paper.
Which became the front of the paper, really. And he's still going strong. So they're going to be on that panel. So it'll be interesting. It'll be good for people to recognize the cultural component of the movement that really inspired so many people. And then we got the Freedom Singers, the real deal, coming in right after the Artist is Activist in the concert happen. Hopefully, I'll be able to sleep on Saturday.
Well, thank you for all the work.
Well, it was a labor of love. We've been trying to do this for two years now. So Dinky, we tried to do it live, but the COVID virus came and struck us down.
Well, I've gotten so old. My husband has started a club called the CRS, Can't Remember Shit club. And I hear that actually, somebody else —
— [crosstalk 01:04:22]. There is a woman who wrote a fantastic book that very few people seem to have heard about. And, of course, I can't call her name, but it may be one of you will know what I'm talking about. She wrote a book about the artistic work, the artistic in the broad sense, in SNCC. And she found every single poem that she could find, and play, and different articles that were written that were from an artistic perspective.
I mean, she found things that I didn't even remember or hadn't even known about. And she wrote a fantastic book. You know what, I [crosstalk 01:05:14].
You got to remember it, because I'd love to see it.
I put it on the SNCC listserve lists, but this was several years ago. I put out about it. But I'm going to find out what it is. And I'll put the name in the chat.
Please, just email me and let me know, because I'd love to have it.
I'll let you know what it is. It's really an important book. It sank without a trace because it was so — She's not a well-known writer and — Anyway, whatever. This is another example of influences that SNCC had that we don't even know about, that somebody else has unearthed and figured out what an important influence that was.[For some examples of the movement's cultural impact see Freedom Movement Posters, Freedom Movement in Art and Poems of the Civil Rights Movement]
There was one question. What was that I wanted to ask you guys? I can't remember now. I'm back in that movement you talked [crosstalk 01:06:33].
CRS [Can't Remember Shit]. Join the club. Send me your application. But remember to send in your application.
Okay. So I know we're supposed to talk a little bit about what we think we might have failed to achieve. And a number of things came to mind for me to bring up, and I have wondered whether we fail to talk about reparations enough during the movement, and lift that issue up. I know Jim Foreman did the Black Manifesto in 1969. And not much came of that. But the whole issue of reparations —[Referring to the Manifesto drafted by Jim Forman. Adopted April 26 by the National Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit. Proclaimed May 2, 1969, Riverside Church, New York City.]
That's not right. That's not true that not much came of it.
Not much came of it at the moment, but it was an important step along the whole long trajectory, again, of discussion about reparations. And now you see people talking about reparations, bills being filed in Congress about reparations.
So I can tell you guys a funny story, the COINTELPRO story.[Refering to the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO (COunter INTELigence PROgram) that was designed to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of organizations and individuals that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered to be "subversive." For him, that included everyone who supported voting rights for nonwhites, an end to Jim Crow segregation, an end to racially-motivated police brutality, or an end to the system and culture of white-supremacy.See FBI's COINTELPRO Targets the Movement for more information.
In 1975, a committee of the U.S. Senate, known colloquially as the "Church Committee," issued a report on COINTELPRO concluding that:"Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that ... the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, ... Groups and individuals have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views ... Unsavory and vicious tactics have been employed — including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths."]
So after Jim made the ["Black Manifesto"] speech at Riverside Church, our doorbell rang one day and this person came to the door and represented themselves, claim to be from the IRS. Said they were from the IRS. That the New York Times and other media were reporting that me, Jim and I, that we got a million dollars from that speech. I was like, "Sure, we did." You can see by the way we were living that we have a million dollars, for sure [sarcastically].
So she said, "Well, why didn't you declare it on your income tax return?"
That was just one of those funny things. But [as a result of Forman's Black Manifesto speech] a lot of money did come forth at that time to different churches and different — We're working on different projects. Of course, it wasn't a real reparations, but I think it was part of the seeds in the reparation movement. That's all I'm trying to say.
I think it also spurred the whole anti-apartheid movement to talk about investment divestiture in South Africa by the national corporations. So I think there were a lot of spinoffs of Jim's gallant, charging forth in the church. My dad is a UCC minister, and so is Charlie Cobb's father. And out of the reparations piece that Jim presented to the UCC church as well, because — Riverside is a UCC church, United Church of Christ, which is the old Congregational, for those of you may not know about the history.
But out of that came the Commission for Racial Justice. And my dad was the chairman of the board, and Charlie Cobb's father was the executive director. And Judy Richardson worked for them, John O'Neil worked for them, Ben Chambers worked for them. I mean, they offered an employment line to anybody that needed the job back in the day. And also they provide money to SNCC.
When I was down working in the SNCC office, one of the things I realized is that we needed to put together a new service. I think, Ira, you mentioned you worked with [Jack] Minnis, the big library. We must have gotten about 30 newspapers a day, and people were clipping them and saving them. And I said, well, what are we going to do with —
Nancy was clipping them — remember that? That was one of your big jobs.
Definitely one of my big jobs, was clipping newspapers.
— it was very important work. But once you collected the material, you need to give it back to the people so they'd know what it was that was going on in Arkansas. I remember clipping the Arkansas Gazette, and the Jackson Times, et cetera, on and on, the Atlanta Constitution. So I applied to the Commission for Racial Justice for a grant to start a news service in SNCC called — And don't kick me for being unimaginative, but we called it the Afra-American News Service.
The term African-American hadn't even come out at that time. So we just created the term AFRA, A-F-R-A American News Service. And they gave us $5,000. And we'd never had that — I mean, we were pretty poor after a lot of things that happened around the Arab-Israeli war . So they kept us going for another year probably, because we could stretch a dollar in SNCC.
But we were able to send out a lot — Do composites of all of the articles and then put them together in a news release. And a lot of the black newspapers pick them up. So I can see a direct benefit to us organizing it for the SNCC during that time because of Jim's Black Manifesto and the way it carried. It resonated, I guess, the word is, in the social gospel church movement, just aside. So it worked.
Is there an archive of that now?
I think I've located some of the — The answer is, I believe it's in the King Library [King Library and Archives, Atlanta GA], but we can't get to a lot of it because of the way it's captured right now. A lot of the SNCC archives are in boxes, and the boxes are sealed up and they're not being digitized or organized in any good fashion. We've been trying for years with SNCC Legacy [Project] to see if we could — We almost succeeded when Martin King Jr. was the head of the library, we had succeeded in getting some resources to digitize the collection. But then when he was deposed and his sister Bernice became the head, it was more difficult to communicate.
So at this point, I think the boxes still exist. I haven't been down there in about five years, so I'm not sure how it's being maintained now. And the other thing I was going to point out is — I forgot what it was. And there are smaller collections.
This is the other thing SNCC Legacy has been trying to do, is to encourage people who have stuff in their attic, in their basements, to go through and find some of the old archival materials that aren't now being held at any of the repositories.[See Preserving our History: What to do With Your Freedom Movement Papers.]
There's some big repositories of SNCC documents. I think University of Wisconsin has a bunch [Wisconsin Historical Society], and then Duke University [John Hope Franklin Center] has a bunch. And Washington University in St. Louis where Joyce [Ladner] got her doctorate, has a bunch. But there are lots of —
[Jim's papers are at] the Library of Congress. I'm cleaning out a lot of files and finding a lot of stuff, and I'm going to send them — Everything I find I'm sending to the Library of Congress for Jim's —
That's good. So I haven't come across — I did come across Bennie Ivy, and she has a small box of collection, because she came to work in SNCC the same year I did. I don't know if you know her, from West Coast. Her family, the Ivy family. You don't know them? They had Ivy's Restaurants. Dunn, do you know them at all?
I know them.
You guys know them?
You know Desi Woods?
Okay. So Desi and Benny came to work in SNCC in '67. Benny stayed in Atlanta. Desi came back home and is now a prominent elected official, I think. Or was a prominent elected official in the Bay Area.
I think she's on the city council in Oakland.
I think so.
She's been around. They were SNCC veteran's as well. But Benny stayed in Atlanta and has a collection that I've been hoping we can find a home for in the future. But that's one of the unfinished tasks. So SNCC's legacy is to be able to find the remaining papers that don't have a home yet, that are up in people's attics and basements, or down in their basement. So hopefully, that'll take like the next couple of years.
I think that the question of archives is — I mean, it's hanging over us. I mean, the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website [this website, now called the Civil Rights Movement Archive], the same way. Bruce [Hartford] has been doing it for years and years, and he's getting so that he can't take care of it, and where it's going to go, and how it's going to be preserved. I mean, it's been a good repository of people in the movement ideas and writings and things like that.
I think all these recordings are going to be transcribed displayed on the CRMVet website, right?
Yeah. That's the idea. And by the way, just so if you don't remember, when you signed up for this, you signed a release. But the idea is that they will be transcribed and you will get a copy of the transcription. And if there's anything in it that you want to change, you are able to do that. Although, there will be a recording that will be unedited in that way, that I don't know if SNCC Legacy is holding it or somebody is. So that's not controlled the same way. But whatever becomes the written document out of it, the transcription you will be able to edit for clarity, or you want to get rid of something, you have those options.
I think there might be a word or two that [crosstalk 01:17:49].
I mean, I do think that the whole question — I think it's interesting that you bring up all this, because today's way of communicating is so different, and how these archives will be stored. There's so much information, whether it's through Twitter or Instagram or whatever, I mean, I don't know anything about, and yet all the younger people I know are using that, and that I keep talking with my grandchildren who are in their 20s that I need to get them to do it, because I'm not going to learn.
But they get so much information through that. And that the whole technique of doing it — I mean, it's interesting, because when you talked about the WATS line stuff, when I've gone back and looked at those things, that those did come out every week or so, and there would be a list of 50 incidents, or 25 incidents. Those would be wonderful on Instagram nowadays. You send out one a day and people would get it, or one a week, or something. But we're not doing it. And I'm not sure what we are talking about, how that does get out.
Mostly, I think, which is this conference is that the people who are working on these things are asking us questions. They are coming to us. And so, I guess it is going to be this more one-on-one passing of knowledge and stuff than mass. But there is a mass movement in a way now. We are not in it, or I don't feel like I'm in it. And that masses of people get huge amounts of information, much of which I think is wrong from what I hear. But nevertheless, it's going out in a way that we never had access, and what important role it does play.
For me, there is a difference between information and knowledge. And stuff that I get day after day, some of it as good and some of it is crap. How do you cull from that, that which is relevant. And that's where a group like SNCC can come in. As long as we're around, we need to tell what the truth as what's not. Many people claim — I hate to say this. Not the SNCC people. I have seen many people talk about various activities that they were in over the years, they didn't do shit.
And it's up to us to be able to be a repository of what the truth is. And that's why the SNCC Legacy Project is so important, but more than just quantitatively gathering information. It's too much to gather. How do we hone down that which needs to be preserved and passed on? And that's one of the things that — I'm not part of the activist in the SNCC Legacy Project, because that's one of the things I understand you all are doing, is honing down. It's not just a quantitative amount of information. It's quality.
A lot of it is the need to have our history interpreted by ourselves. I think that's in a nutshell what we're trying to do, and not worry — I mean, you can worry about it, because somebody's going to misinterpret anything you do. But if we can at least put it out there as this was our intention, and this is what we did, and this is why we did it, and this was the result of it. I think those are the things that we tried to drill down within the SNCC Digital. You've probably all been — In addition to CRMVets, there's the SNCC Digital Gateway. I think it's now called SNCC Digital on the internet that was done in conjunction with Duke University. I think the first iteration came out five years ago, and now it gets refreshed.
That's the good thing about having this stuff online, is that you can refresh it, and you can add more data, or you can change the data, or you can put another whole chapter up. And then this past May we just released the Black Power Chronicles. And that was my major piece of work. And we're updating that now, actually. And we did oral histories, which are really good. And there are about 35 of those. And then in addition, we focused on DC, the history of the Black Power Movement and its impact on Washington DC. And then we did a chronology of things that happened along a timeline.
And at intersections on the timeline, we introduced a specific action, or institution, or program that was developed. And we had somebody who was actually a part of that program to write a narrative about how it took place. So I don't know if you all know WPFW Radio, which is a part of the Pacifica Network. That's been going now for 35 years. And we had the lady who was the first program director write her narrative about how it all got started. So it's very tedious to do and you need resources for it, but we hope it's going to make a difference.
Okay. It that just historical, or is it a conversation as well?
Both. We actually pulled the grassroots movement together to collect the history from Black Power veterans. And we went and we brought in students from Howard University from the Kwame Teresa society. So we collected the materials over a five-year period. We did public programs. We had a series of videotaped oral histories, and then we did the chronology narrative. And then there's another section that interprets the SNCC history that led to Black Power movement and some of the things that happened while SNCC was still active in the Black Power movement. And I wrote that piece. So blame me if you see something wrong.
But it took us a good while to do it. And there are other ways of collecting the history, but we thought this would be the most compelling. And we've gotten a lot of good feedback on it. And we've been able to raise some more money to do some more tinkering with it. So, that was good.
Well, I asked the question because I think it's interesting that in our discussion — And as I recall in the past ones I've been in, the issue of Black Power and SNCC and its effect on the communities in which we were, has never been brought up in my memory, and they may have been. And so I'm fascinated to be, to read this, because I certainly remember as that happened, the effect that it had on the West Coast, at least around the [San Francisco] Bay Area. And I remember when Rap Brown came out here to speak, and meeting at the SNCC office in San Francisco. And as I recall, Rap showed up wearing a gun on his waist.
And that about half the people there were very disconcerted by the whole thing. And then we had to figure out how we were going to present the issues of Black Power to a predominantly white community that had been supporting SNCC. So I would be very interested to see this, because I've never heard the discussion on it's either positive or negative effects on the civil rights community.
There's a lot out there on the negative effects. Not very much on the positive or the accuracy of history of how a Black Power movement started. Because most people think the Black Panthers started the Black Power Movement and it wasn't. So we tried to clear up some of the historical record on how it was developed, what was meant by it, how we defined it, how it influenced the other programs, like the Black Arts Movement, which was another form of really widespread the amalgamation of politics and art came to a head within the black arts movement that was led largely by New Yorkers, Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal, both of whom were poets. So they were both cultural — I'm sorry, verse as well as art that came out of the black arts movement, which considered itself a sister of the Black Power Movement.
So you'll see that documentation in there. And as to how it impacted or influenced the white community, it was a completely different reaction than it had in the black community. And that's what we tried to point out, because this was largely a movement for about and by Black people for Black people. And unfortunately, a lot of the press, especially, painted it as a racist movement. And one that was meant to harm relationships within the white community that had been existing for a long time within the Black Civil Rights Movement.
So I think I'd love to hear your take on it after you read it. But it was written — Just understand, it was written for students. Sometimes I thought it was more of an almost simplification than it probably needed to be, but I needed to start the conversation at least. And this is the first time that something like this has been done. You're right about that. And I'm sure there'll be a lot more conversation about it.
So I notice here that there's 10 minutes left for the breakout room. So I don't know if people have last thoughts, or if anything to get in that — I know from what you just said, I will certainly read that. I think it was difficult dealing with it then. But I think that the importance was immense. And as I say, I don't think we dealt with it very well in our communities. And so it'd be interesting to see the discussion.
Thank you for doing this. I think Bruce fought hard to have this included as a part of the planning of the SNCC 60th anniversary. I think it was — Especially Dinky, who I've known for many years, I have never seen how many any of you, or your work. So I learned a lot this afternoon, and I appreciate you taking the time to be a part of it.
I am extraordinarily impressed by all the stuff you're still doing, Karen. I think it's just fabulous.
Thank you. We're all doing it together. It's a hard working group. Judy Richardson [crosstalk 01:30:51].
But you're clearly a large part of it. So thank you.
Thank you for sharing with us, all this stuff. As you said, when you started off you, the only Black person here. And that
I hope that wasn't deliberate...
Well, I can't answer that. I had nothing to do with setting up the groups. But we always talk about safe places to speak. And so you made it much easier by appearing to accept it as a safe space for you to speak.
Absolutely. I appreciate him doing it. And I loved your stories. I wish you guys would sit down and read a book about the movement and then get some more memories pulled out, because that's absolutely — everybody who's forgotten the year they were there. Now, that's not a good thing. You can go [inaudible 01:32:07].
Don't get me started. [inaudible 01:32:08].
I was just going to tell Karen, I'm very excited about the concert. I am beyond excited about the concert.
I really hope you enjoy it. We put it in the can. What is today? I can't remember. Today's Wednesday. It went into the can on Saturday, because it's pre-recorded. And then so everybody on the planning committee say, "Well, we want to hear it. Let's see what this sounds like." This had been such a production. So they came away being very pleased. So I hope that your reaction is the same.
And what time is it happening?
You don't even have to be at the conference to see this, because we've decided to open this concert up so that it would be available to the public for free. You don't have to pay for the registration. So you can go on YouTube. And the title of the concert is Stand Up and Shout.
[Referring to Zoom technical problems] I think it's at the top. I'm a legally blind. So I have all my accessibility — I have a lot of accessibility stuff on. Let's see if it's up here. Okay. I do see see it —
Karen, I want to say something to you. I'm also legally blind. [crosstalk 01:38:23]. And I used the experience that I learned from that. I sued Phillip Morris, and I was one of the first disabled people in the United States to win a handicap discrimination complaint under the law that proceeded the ADA. And if it were not going to Civil Rights Movement, I would not have known how to do that research. [inaudible 01:38:48].
I'm sure that was a Jack Minnis skill you got there.
Another achievement I think of our movement was the ADA and the the whole disabled rights movement. Because I worked at the Center for Independent Living [in Berkeley CA] in the late '70s and early '80s as a mechanic. I modified vehicles. But that whole movement was built in the same way that the Civil Rights Movement had been built, and their occupation of the health and human services —
Sorry, we're leaving now. [Referring to the small group session being ended by the Zoom host.]
[END SESSION #2]
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